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Story by Megan Banta Register-Guard - Story Source
Published on Tuesday March 9, 2021 - 12:27 AM

Springfield police officers stifled protesters' free-speech rights during protests against the killing of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, particularly during a July 29 march in the Thurston neighborhood, according to a lawsuit filed Monday.

Black Unity, individual members of Black Unity and others allege in a federal lawsuit that officers with the Springfield Police Department "engaged in several unconstitutional actions to punish, prevent or chill Plaintiffs' First Amendment activities" during the July 29 march.

The lawsuit, filed by attorneys with the Civil Liberties Defense Center, names the city as a whole, Chief Richard Lewis and more than two dozen individual officers, including lieutenants and sergeants.

On July 29, the lawsuit argues, law enforcement officers unlawfully detained people, colluded with and informed "violent counter-protestors," encouraged counterprotesters to "amass and use force against Plaintiffs," blocked roads to prevent the march and used excessive force, among other actions that violated protesters' rights and denied them equal protection.

"The police in Springfield have, time and time again, shown that they do not value people of color, and they don't care about peaceful protesting," said Tyshawn Ford, a Black Unity leader and one of the plaintiffs, while speaking during a press conference Monday evening. "They just want to go out there and flash their badge and show that they have more power than the rest of us."

The City of Springfield didn't immediately respond to a request for comment, but officials are reviewing the complaint.

The protest in Thurston, which brought several hundred people to the east Springfield neighborhood over the fears one Black resident had about a Halloween skeleton hung with a noose alongside other decorations in a nearby yard, was largely a peaceful march but was marred by clashes with local police and with counterprotesters. Police arrested five protesters and one counterprotester.

Springfield hired use-of-force expert Rick Braziel to conduct an external investigation into police actions that night. The contract with Braziel was supposed to end Jan. 31 but was extended.

Police took similar actions June 26 when protesters marched through the Thurston neighborhood and downtown Springfield, the lawsuit adds.