A lawsuit brought by Seattle protesters – who claim having to buy expensive anti-police protective gear deprives them of their First Amendment rights – is “out of bounds,” criminal defense attorney Brian Claypool said Friday.
“You’ve got to be kidding me that you’re asking a court that taxpayers should pay for protective gear,” Claypool told “Fox News @ Night” host Shannon Bream during the show’s Night Court segment.
“And then … you’re asking a court that is supposed to be interpreting the law, not making the law, to then prescribe what levels of force that police officers can use in very fluid and volatile situations?”
The lawsuit, filed in a federal court in Seattle on Monday by five protesters, states that poorer demonstrators lose out on their right to protest because gas masks, boots, gloves, helmets and other gear to protect themselves from responding police is prohibitively expensive.
“Rest assured that if these protesters win this lawsuit you’re going to see more police officers injured and more protesters injured,” Claypool added.
Police pepper spray protesters, Saturday, July 25, 2020, near Seattle Central Community College in Seattle. A large group of protesters marched in support of Black Lives Matter and against police brutality and racial injustice. (Associated Press)
Andrew Stoltmann, an attorney and adjunct law professor at Northwestern University, however, told Bream he feels the plaintiffs have brought up important First Amendment issues.
“You can’t charge people and make people have to buy expensive stuff in order to protest,” he said.
He said it could become a slippery slope if the protesters lose the lawsuit.
“What next?” he asked. “Are we going to say people have to spend $200 or $300 before they vote? And I know it’s kind of easy to laugh at these crazy people in Seattle and Portland but they have a right to protest … and you can’t put various burdens on them.”
The lawsuit claims that protesters have to face the possibility of an aggressive police response and “must purchase expensive equipment to be assured they will be able to protest safely, the indiscriminate use of weapons by [the Seattle Police Department] implicates equal protection.”
Claypool said that winning the lawsuit might encourage protesters to become violent “because now the taxpayers are arming them with all this gear.” He said it’s “guilt by association” to join a protest where others are violent.
“If you go to a protest knowing that the last two months there’s been violence, businesses gutted, a person got killed, then it’s guilt by association and if somebody next to you is tossing a bottle at a police officer and that officer defends himself or herself then you’ve assumed that risk,” Claypool said.
Last month when Seattle police cleared the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best said their job was to “support peaceful demonstration.”
“But what has happened on these streets over the last few weeks is lawless and it’s brutal and, bottom line, it is simply unacceptable,” she told reporters.
Stoltmann said conservatives would be as outraged as the anti-police protesters if they had to spend hundreds of dollars for protective gear to attend a rally against Joe Biden, for example.
“We’d all be saying that’s crazy, that’s ludicrous, that’s insane, but because it’s an issue that most of your viewers aren’t very sympathetic about, they’re saying, ‘good, stick it to them,’” he said. “There are bad protesters but most of them are good.”
Bream suggested it might make more sense to sue violent rioters who have hijacked the message. “We’re talking about so many things other than George Floyd and the other lives that have been lost that it seems like we’ve gotten completely off track,” she said. “So maybe the better lawsuit is the peaceful protesters suing the no-so-peaceful protesters.”
The Seattle City Attorney’s office said it is looking into the claims and intends to defend the city. The plaintiffs reportedly seek a temporary restraining order that would prohibit the use of force by city police.
Fox News’ Eddie DeMarche contributed to this report.