The complaint seeks damages of $200,000 under the Federal Tort Claims Act for physical harm and ongoing psychological injuries that it says Dashtamirova suffered from an intimidation tactic that lawmakers and human rights activists say has been deployed against insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Dashtamirova traveled from Baltimore with her roommate to demonstrate peacefully for racial justice after the May killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody, the complaint said. After the helicopter flights over the protest, the claim asserts, she experienced eye irritation for several days and continues to experience mental and emotional trauma including anxiety, insomnia and intensified migraine headaches.
“My eyes and skin were burning from all the debris flying everywhere,” Dashtamirova said in a statement released by the ACLU. “I couldn’t see anything. It was terrifying and felt like a warning to people who believe in racial justice that if we say things the government doesn’t like, it will use the full force of the military against us.”
In a statement, ACLU lawyer Michael Perloff called the move “a dangerous, unprecedented show of force” against Americans exercising First Amendment rights.
“The streets of D.C. are not a war zone, and protesters are not the enemy,” Perloff said. “Our government should stop treating them that way.”
The D.C. National Guard did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The military has six months to respond to the complaint. If it denies the claim or does not respond, the plaintiff may file a lawsuit in federal court.
Two helicopters from the D.C. Guard flew low over protesters on June 1. One of the helicopters, a UH-72 Lakota, hovered an estimated 45 feet over the heads of protesters, according to a Washington Post analysis using 3-D modeling, videos and photos.
The Guard’s Lakota, a medical evacuation aircraft, bore red crosses. Military law experts and human rights groups criticized its use, saying the red cross is a symbol of global mercy and is inconsistent with what has been widely described as maneuvers to intimidate. The incident is under investigation by the D.C. Guard.