Lawsuit alleges excessive force by police, false arrests, during George Floyd protest

Eleven people have filed a federal lawsuit saying they were assaulted by police or wrongfully arrested while peacefully observing a June 2020 protest in Massachusetts’ second-largest city over the killing of George Floyd.

The lawsuit filed Thursday names as defendants the city of Worcester, the former city manager, the chief of police and more than a dozen officers.

The lawsuit also claims that city police were not properly trained for crowd control or the use of less-than-lethal pepper spray projectiles and that city officials and police engaged in a wide-ranging coverup of the night’s events.

While the protest on the night of June 1 and 2 turned violent, the lawsuit said none of the plaintiffs was involved in the violent conduct.

“At a demonstration in Worcester on the night of June 1-2, 2020, police retaliated against peaceful bystanders whose only offense was to observe — and in many cases to record — the officers’ conduct,” the lawsuit says. “For that, plaintiffs in this action suffered gratuitous violence, false arrest and malicious prosecution on baseless criminal charges, theft or damage of cell phones, and in some cases racist slurs — all from officers under a duty to keep the peace.”

The charges against those arrested were later dropped by prosecutors because of insufficient evidence.

“We are aware that a lawsuit has been filed, however, the city has yet to be served,” the city manager’s office said in an email Friday. “There is no statement or comment at this time.”

A spokesperson for the police said in an email Friday that the department does not comment on pending litigation.

The Worcester protest, about a week after George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on his neck, started peacefully. But later, some people lit fires, vandalized structures, blocked downtown traffic and pelted officers with glass bottles, rocks, concrete and fireworks, Worcester police said at the time. One man was arrested after police found three Molotov cocktails in a satchel he was carrying.

According to the lawsuit, one plaintiff who attended the protest was attacked by officers after she objected to police shoving demonstrators. The woman was punched in the face and the ribs, was brought to the ground where an officer placed a knee on her spine, and she suffered a knee injury that was so severe that she could not stand on her own. She had not done anything illegal, the lawsuit said.

A Clark University student who lived in the area of the protest and was using his cellphone to record event was tackled by several officers who pinned his head and limbs to the pavement, kicked him, placed a knee in the back of his neck, and punched him repeatedly, the lawsuit said.

He suffered visible bruising to his face, legs, back and neck and sees a counselor as a result of the emotional distress he experienced, the lawsuit said.

“In handling the protest demonstration the city and its police department demonstrated complete indifference to the rights of people under the laws and constitutions of Massachusetts and of the United States to be free from wrongful arrest, assault, and criminal prosecution in retaliation for the peaceful exercise of their rights,” Hector Pineiro, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said in a statement.

The lawsuit alleges the use of unreasonable force by police; constitutional violations; assault and battery by some officers; false arrest and malicious prosecution; and infliction of emotional distress. It seeks unspecified damages.

The U.S. Justice Department in November opened a civil investigation into whether the Worcester Police Department routinely uses excessive force or discriminates against residents based on race or gender.