Seven U.S. Capitol Police officers on Thursday sued former president Donald Trump and more than a dozen alleged participants in the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, saying the defendants are responsible for the officers being “violently assaulted, spat on, tear-gassed, bear-sprayed, subjected to racial slurs and epithets, and put in fear for their lives.”
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, alleges that Trump, by falsely claiming the presidential election was rigged, incited a mob of his supporters to storm the Capitol in an effort to stop Congress from confirming President Biden’s victory.
The complaint describes an array of abuse endured by the seven officers, who collectively “have dedicated more than 150 years” to protecting Congress “so that it can carry out its constitutional responsibilities safely and openly.”
While hundreds of demonstrators besieged the historic building, many of them armed with bludgeons, cans of noxious spray and other weapons, the lawsuit says, Trump “reportedly was watching live television coverage” and “refused to call off the attackers, whom he had personally directed to the Capitol just moments before.”
The complaint says Trump and other defendants, including the former president’s longtime friend Roger Stone, “encouraged and supported acts of violence, knowing full well that among his supporters were such groups and individuals as the Proud Boys, who had demonstrated their propensity to use violence” against Trump critics.
Representatives for Trump did not respond to a request for comment, but his lawyers in similar lawsuits have argued he has absolute immunity from lawsuits over official actions taken while he was in office and his comments are shielded by the First Amendment. A spokesman for Trump has also said the president did not plan or organize the Jan. 6 rally on the Ellipse that preceded the riot or incite or conspire to incite violence at the Capitol.
In a statement via text, Stone called the lawsuit “baseless” and a textbook example of political harassment because it requires those sued to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to defend themselves.
“The basic premise of today’s frivolous civil suit is deeply flawed. I never instructed anyone to hurt people at the Capitol, let alone a police officer, on Jan. 6 or at any other time, nor did I conspire to deprive anyone of their civil rights,” Stone said. He again called “categorically false” any claim that he “had any involvement in, or knowledge of, the commission of any unlawful acts by any person or group” in Washington that day.
The case, filed on the officers’ behalf by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, is similar to lawsuits filed separately against Trump this year by lawmakers including Reps. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.) and Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.). Those civil actions also accuse Trump of being responsible for violence allegedly planned and carried out in large part by such far-right groups as the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers. Thompson in July dropped out of his case against Trump because he was selected as chairman of the Select Committee to Investigate the Capitol attack and wanted to avoid the “appearance of a conflict,” but 10 other lawmakers continue as co-plaintiffs.
Numerous members of those groups and another extremist organization, the Three Percenters, have been criminally charged in the Jan. 6 riot, and the police officers’ lawsuit names more than a dozen charged individuals as defendants. The lawsuit defendants also include the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers organizations — which have also asked a judge to toss out a lawsuit making similar claims and have said members did not plan to enter the Capitol.
“Racism and white supremacy pervaded Defendants’ efforts from the outset,” according to the officers’ complaint, which alleges civil violations of the 1871 Ku Klux Klan Act. That federal statute was meant to curb violence against emancipated Blacks, including those seeking to vote, in the former Confederacy. “Defendants’ targeted false claims of election fraud at cities and states with significant Black populations.”
After the election, as Trump and his supporters continued “fabricating and spreading the lie that the Presidential election was stolen,” the lawsuit says, Trump “employed, planned for, and encouraged the use of force, intimidation, and threats to stop the Congressional count of electoral votes on January 6.” When the siege was at its full fury, the complaint says, Trump “encouraged and supported the attackers.”
The lawsuit lists the officers as Conrad Smith, Danny McElroy, Byron Evans, Governor Latson, Melissa Marshall, Michael Fortune and Jason DeRoche. In addition to alleging civil rights violations under Ku Klux Klan Act, the complaint includes civil counts of battery and assault against the officers, several of whom are Black.
“One attacker shoved Officer Latson,” the lawsuit says. “Attackers then breached the Senate Chamber, physically assaulted Officer Latson, and hurled racial slur at him.” He was injured by the assault and by “exposure to noxious pepper spray, bear spray, fire extinguishers and other pollutants sprayed by the attackers.”
When Officer Fortune arrived at the Capitol about 4 p.m., the complaint says, “it was like a war zone, with chemical fog in the air, tables flipped, statues defaced, feces on the walls, blood and broken glass on the floors.”
For several hours, “while inhaling a smog of chemical pollutants and sustaining burns from those chemicals,” according to the lawsuit, Fortune “helped clear the Capitol of remaining attackers, search for any hidden improvised explosive devices, and carry injured officers to a triage center for medical treatment.”
The lawsuits does not seek a specific monetary award but asks for compensatory and punitive damages “in an amount to be determined by the jury at trust.”
Manuel Roig-Franzia contributed to this report.