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ACLU-backed lawsuit accuses DC police of civil rights violations on Inauguration Day

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The main defendant in the case said he was subjected to a humiliating inspection after being detained by the police, including a manual rectal probe. (AP Photo/Mark Tenally)

The American Civil Liberties Union of the District of Columbia announced on Wednesday it would file a civil rights lawsuit on behalf of four individuals against the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department for actions the department took on protesters during Inauguration Day.

"We saw police use the actions of a few as justification to punish a great many law abiding demonstrators. Again, we saw a mass roundup and mass arrest," ACLU Attorney Scott Michelman said. "Today, we are filing suit on behalf of several courageous individuals who are willing to stand up and say to the police, ‘enough.' We think their stories are representative of MPD's abuses on Jan. 20."

Shay Horse, a photojournalist covering the event; Elizabeth Lagesse, an activist from Baltimore; Judah Ariel, a legal observer; and Milo Gonzalez are the four plaintiffs in the case.

Horse said he was pepper-sprayed from behind by an officer even though he "was taking pictures rather than participating in anything described as illegal."

Horse, the main defendant in the case, said he was subjected to a humiliating inspection after being detained by the police, including a manual rectal probe.

"I feel like I was raped," Horse said.

Horse v. District of Columbia was filed in the federal district court in Washington. The lawsuit seeks "monetary compensation for the four individuals in an amount to be determined by a jury."

Protests against President Trump were held throughout D.C. on Inauguration Day, and some became violent when protesters began destroying property, throwing objects and clashing with police. More than 200 protesters were indicted on rioting charges.

Lagesse and Gonzalez face pending felony charges for rioting and destruction of property.

"I have never been so disappointed in my country as in the moment when Donald Trump won the election. I knew I had to be in D.C. on election day," Lagesse said. "I wanted to stand up and shout, ‘Trump is not normal.'"

Lagesse said police fired pepper spray and tear gas around her without a warning to disperse, despite peacefully marching without any acts of vandalism.

"I ran away from all the chaos along with the other protesters but everywhere we turned intersections were blocked, police eventually chased us into a kind of pen, set up at the corner of 12th and L, where they held us for hours," Lagesse said. "They even pepper sprayed us while we were in the kettle, even though we couldn't move or doing anything to provoke them."

Ariel, a D.C. attorney who volunteered to observe the protest with the National Lawyers Guild, said he saw no lawbreaking on parts of the protesters at 12th and L or anything that was menacing or threatening.

"The only unlawful activity I saw was coming from police towards people on the street and when they began to deploy their pepper-spray it was completely indiscriminate." Ariel said.