A New York state judge rebuffed President Trump’s attempt to distance himself from a lawsuit against his security team Monday, forcing him to face claims that they allegedly attacked a group of peaceful Mexican protesters in 2015.
Bronx Supreme Court Judge Fernando Tapia denied Trump’s motion to dismiss allegations of assault and battery and destruction of property, saying that a jury could find that Trump “authorized and condoned” the guards’ conduct. The case was brought against six defendants, including then-presidential candidate Trump, the Trump Organization and Trump security director Keith Schiller, three months after Trump announced his candidacy.
On Sept. 3, 2015, Efrain Galicia and four other Mexican demonstrators were confronted outside Trump Tower. The men had gone to protest after the Trump campaign announced that their home country was funneling rapists and drug runners into the United States, according to court documents reviewed by The Washington Post.
Two of the protesters were dressed as Ku Klux Klan members — in white hoods and robes, a reference to white supremacist David Duke’s endorsement of Trump — and carried signs that read, “Trump: make America racist again,” the documents said.
Schiller, then-director of security for the Trump Organization, snatched two of the signs from the men, according to court documents. A struggle ensued, ending with Schiller, a former New York City police officer, violently striking Galicia, who went to the hospital.
Several news outlets aired a surveillance video on television and on social media of a security guard punching a protester, who had attempted to retrieve his sign, The Post previously reported.
Trump alleged that he was not involved and, therefore, not personally responsible. But Tapia found that Trump could be held “personally liable,” Roger J. Bernstein and Benjamin N. Dictor, attorneys for the plaintiffs, told The Post.
Tapia wrote that “an employer may be held vicariously responsible for a tort committed by his or her employee within the scope of employment.”
The judge based his decision in part on a statement made by Trump at a campaign rally, which he buried in a footnote: “Maybe he should have been roughed up because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing,” Trump said, according to the judge’s Monday decision.
In an initial victory for the plaintiffs, on Oct. 8, 2015, Tapia granted an injunction for interfering with the demonstration and violating the plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly. “Inhibition of the demonstrators’ fundamental rights is irreparable. Loss of one’s right to free speech is considered an irreparable injury,” wrote Tapia, noting that the assault occurred on a public sidewalk, as opposed to private property.
Monday brought a second series of victories.
“Defendants motion to disassociate the actions of Schiller, Uher, and Deck from Trump, his namesake company, and campaign as a matter of law is unavailing,” Tapia wrote.
The plaintiffs, according to Bernstein and Dictor, will be asking the jury for punitive damages. “Our clients were violently assaulted by then-candidate Trump’s security team. We look forward to trying the case against now-President Trump, Keith Schiller and the other defendants in the Bronx.”