Richmond judge denies effort to ban police from using chemical irritants on protesters

Richmond

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A Richmond judge denied an emergency injunction request Tuesday from the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia seeking to prohibit law enforcement from using chemical agents or any other devices to disperse protesters.

The Virginia branch of the ACLU filed a lawsuit last week in Richmond Circuit Court on behalf of the Virginia Student Power Network against Richmond, the city’s police department and also Virginia State Police.

The suit claimed that demonstrators had their First Amendment rights infringed upon after an unlawful assembly was declared outside City Hall the night of June 22 into the early hours of June 23.

After oral arguments in the case Monday, Richmond Circuit Court Judge Hon. Beverly Snukals said that a ruling would be made “promptly.” Snukals agreed with the city attorney’s argument that an injunction would prevent police from being able to do their jobs.

“An injunction would constitute an unwarranted intrusion into and interference with the ability of law enforcement to do its job during an unprecedented period of civil unrest,” Snukals said in the written order.

Lawyers for the ACLU of Virginia argued that force should only be used when there is clear and present danger.

“We’re disappointed with the court’s decision and we will continue to fight in court to bring justice to people who are speaking out against systemic, anti-Black racism by continuing to pursue this lawsuit on behalf of the Virginia Student Power Network and individual protestors,” the ACLU of Virginia said in a statement. “While the court’s opinion suggests that the appointment of yet another new police chief in Richmond leaves open the possibility that the tactics of police might change, we fear the violent police response to protesters will remain the same as the faces in the chief’s uniform have changed.”

The ACLU’s executive director, Claire Gastañaga, also added that the judge’s decision is starting a new conversation. 

“We’re also disappointed that the court raised questions about whether Virginians have a right to challenge in state courts unconstitutional police actions and violations of their civil rights under the Virginia constitution. We call on the General Assembly to take action at their upcoming special session to ensure that there is an unquestioned right to sue on constitutional and civil rights claims in state court,” the ACLU wrote in the statement.

As the judge issued her ruling, a group of area faith leaders pushing for an end to police brutality gathered near the Robert E. Lee statue on Monument Avenue.

This story is developing. Check back for updates.

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