INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department agreed to change how it uses chemical agents during protests as part of a lawsuit settlement with the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana.
The ACLU of Indiana filed a federal lawsuit in June on behalf of Indy10 Black Lives Matter and three protesters who demonstrated against police brutality on May 29, 30 and 31 in Indianapolis. Demonstrations following the deaths of Dreasjon Reed and George Floyd later turned violent, but protesters represented in the lawsuit said they remained peaceful.
The lawsuit claimed IMPD's use of chemical irritants, such as tear gas, rubber bullets and batons, violated the First Amendment.
ACLU of Indiana Legal Director Ken Falk said Thursday in a virtual press conference that a settlement was reached and IMPD agreed to not use "riot control agents" against peaceful protesters or those engaged in passive resistance.
The settlement also forbids police from using chemical agents to deter protesters from going to another location. Police also cannot use them simply because "unlawful activities" are taking place in another location.
It requires IMPD to ensure announcements to disperse are heard by everyone in an area police want to clear and that announcements are made "in a manner reasonably calculated to permit all persons sufficient time to disperse before deployment of riot control agents and less lethal devices."
"This should lessen indiscriminate use of chemicals or other weapons," Falk said.
The settlement allows IMPD to use riot control agents when there is "an imminent threat of serious bodily injury or death," or another exigent circumstances, like rioting.
Falk said the recognition of protest as a right protected by the First Amendment is "extremely significant."
"This means from a broad perspective that all IMPD officers will be continuously instructed on the importance of protecting the First Amendment rights of protesters and the right to minimize the use of force," Falk said.
IMPD released a statement saying the settlement "reaffirms" the department's "commitment to being responsive to how our community wants us to serve — adding to written policy the safety measures and de-escalation tactics recommended by the ACLU that were already part of training and practice for the Event Response Group."
"It is our hope that this agreement brings us one step closer to healing the division in our community and building the types of police-neighborhood partnerships that reduce violence and create a better Indianapolis for all to enjoy," IMPD's statement continued.
Indy10 Black Lives Matter also issued a statement saying the settlement "underscores the power of the people."
"Demonstrators in mourning deserve safe and secure places to gather without the threat of state-sanctioned violence, especially prematurely and without provocation," the statement said.
Our statement regarding the settlement reached: pic.twitter.com/vZmnLXbx21— BLM INDY (@indy10people) October 29, 2020
Three women who participated in the spring protests spoke during Thursday's press conference and described lasting effects they experienced after inhaling tear gas.
Bre Robinson, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said she was in the middle of a large crowd of protesters by the City-County building on May 30. She said people at the front of the crowd threw water bottles at police officers, leading to tear gas being deployed.
Robinson said she was sick for days after inhaling tear gas and experienced symptoms that included intense coughing and nausea.
Indy10 member Kyra Harvey said she had trouble breathing and seeing immediately after and later experienced changes to her menstrual cycle. Jess Louise, another Indy10 member, said she had similar symptoms.
"I'm hoping that the global effect of this agreement is to elevate the importance of the protest rights here so that they are better prepared, but we'll see," Falk said.
Watch Thursday's press conference below