ACLU suing Phoenix PD over Trump protest records

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Protesters raise their hands after Phoenix police used tear gas outside the Phoenix Convention Center, Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2017, in Phoenix. Protests were held against President Trump as he hosted a rally inside the convention center.  (AP Photo/Matt York) Protesters raise their hands after Phoenix police used tear gas outside the Phoenix Convention Center, Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2017, in Phoenix. Protests were held against President Trump as he hosted a rally inside the convention center. (AP Photo/Matt York)
Gas billowing from a canister in the street during a Trump protest is downtown Phoenix on Aug. 22. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Gas billowing from a canister in the street during a Trump protest is downtown Phoenix on Aug. 22. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
Phoenix city officials spoke about the unruly protest after the Trump protest in downtown Phoenix on Aug. 22. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Phoenix city officials spoke about the unruly protest after the Trump protest in downtown Phoenix on Aug. 22. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -

The American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona announced Tuesday that it has filed a lawsuit against the Phoenix Police Department over “the agency’s refusal to release public records concerning the large, peaceful protest of President Trump’s rally in August.”

When the president was in Phoenix on Aug. 22 for a rally at the Phoenix Convention Center, what started as a peaceful protest escalated to violence in the streets and many people blamed the Phoenix Police Department for starting it.

At the time, police said protesters threw gas at them, but some protesters told Arizona's Family that the officers were unprovoked. 

According to Sgt. Howard with Phoenix police, some people in the crowd began to throw rocks, bottles and other projectiles at police and someone in the crowd dispersed tear gas in the area.

Our Mike Watkiss at the scene called it a "battle zone."

"Your eyes are burning; you're choking," Watkiss said, described how the gas affected him.

[ORIGINAL STORY: 4 arrested, 2 officers suffer heat exhaustion after protest turns unruly outside Trump rally]

[PHOTOS AND VIDEOS: From that night]

"The ACLU of Arizona received many, many complaints from people who witnessed and suffered from the Phoenix Police Department's extreme tactics against peaceful protesters," ACLU of Arizona Legal Director Kathy Brody said in a news release about the lawsuit. "The department failed to protect the First Amendment rights of demonstrators that night. Now, the public deserves to see the critical records documenting the Phoenix Police Department's actions. The department must stop withholding the information about how and why officers used violent force and sent many Arizonans home with cuts, bruises, and other injuries."

[READ MORE: Phoenix PD release more details on protests, arrests outside Trump's rally in Phoenix]

When all was said and done, four people were arrested -- two on suspicion of aggravated assault and one on suspicion criminal damage charges. The other was arrested on an unrelated warrant.

[SLIDESHOW: Police deploy tear gas at Trump protesters]

The ACLU of Arizona says it has submitted two public records requests, the first of which was on Aug. 28. According to the paperwork filed in court, the second request was made in a letter dated Oct. 6. Another letter was sent on Oct. 19.

"The Phoenix Police Department refused to provide any records in response to those requests, but admitted that it gathered records responsive to the ACLU of Arizona’s requests, and publicly used those records to refute claims of police malfeasance during the protest," according to a news release from ACLU of Arizona.

As part of its lawsuit, the ACLU of Arizona included an email from the Phoenix Police Department sent on Nov. 15.

"Due to the unique nature of the event, the Phoenix Police Department has sought and gathered many records for review, with the intention of creating a comprehensive after action report," it reads. "In processing your request, along with the nearly 80,000 other requests received each year by the Phoenix Police Department, the focus is on the completion of the after action report (to support the police mission). The Department hopes to complete the report by the end of the year."

[READ IN FULL: The ACLU's letters and the email from the Phoenix Police Department are part of the lawsuit]

“The Police Department’s story about how and why they used excessive force against the protesters has changed over and over again,” said ACLU of Arizona Staff Attorney Darrell Hill. “Under the law, the public needs to be able to promptly see the Police Department’s own records so that we can judge for ourselves whether officers acted appropriately. We have a public records law so that we can all monitor the performance of government officials.”

Arizona's Family has reached out to the Phoenix Police Department for its response to the lawsuit.

"The Phoenix Police Department’s Professional Standards Bureau is continuing to review and process an immense amount of records related to events surrounding President Trump’s visit in August.," Sgt. Johnathan Howard wrote in an e-mail reply. "It has always been our intention to release the review and associated records as quickly as possible. We anticipate the review will be completed within the coming weeks. Unfortunately, we are not able to provide specific comments on pending lawsuits."

In the immediate aftermath of the violence, Phoenix Jeri Williams and Greg Stanton spoke with the media about what happened after the president's rally.

"A very small number of people decided to commit acts of assault on our police officers, including the gas that was mentioned and rocks and that was very unfortunate," Stanton said.

[RAW VIDEO: Police, mayor talk about post-rally violence] 

Williams defended and praised her officers for their actions that night.

“No one who was there last night wanted the end result to be," she said the next day. "But I will say this once again, professional, decisive, immediately responsive and our police department had to deal with and engage with a scenario and situation and they did it with exception. They were amazing."

“I don't think our level of force was overdone," she continued. "I think it was calculated. I don’t think we were abusive. I think we did everything clearly, methodically and I think we did a great job in that tense situation."

The ACLU of Arizona does not agree.

"If there were a handful of bad actors then the Phoenix Police [Department] should have been more targeted in their response to that to try to neutralize or remove those bad actors," Brody told our Donna Rossi Tuesday afternoon. "Instead they targeted hundreds of people with those weapons and went against them indiscriminately and violently." 


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