BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A Louisiana police officer injured during protests over the 2016 killing of a black man can sue a Black Lives Matter organizer on the grounds he acted negligently by leading people to block a highway, a federal appeals court has ruled.
The Baton Rouge officer, identified only as John Doe in court records, had sued DeRay Mckesson and others who gathered as part of the Black Lives Matter movement after police fatally shot Alton Sterling, The Advocate reported. A federal judge threw out the lawsuit in 2017, citing First Amendment rights and noting Black Lives Matter was too loosely organized to sue.
But the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday that the officer should be able to argue that Mckesson, a prominent Baltimore activist, didn’t exercise reasonable care in leading protesters onto the highway, setting up a police confrontation in which the officer was injured by a thrown concrete block.
Mckesson, reached Thursday for comment, said, “I’m disappointed and troubled by the 5th Circuit’s reversal of the district court decision. I am currently exploring my legal options and will respond formally soon.”
Circuit Judge E. Grady Jolly, writing for a unanimous three-judge panel, said, “Mckesson should have known that leading the demonstrators onto a busy highway was most nearly certain to provoke a confrontation between police and the mass of demonstrators, yet he ignored the foreseeable danger to officers, bystanders, and demonstrators, and notwithstanding, did so anyway.”
The court said it wasn’t addressing whether Doe’s arguments were valid.
“Our ruling at this point is not to say that a finding of liability will ultimately be appropriate,” Jolly wrote. “We are simply required to decide whether Officer Doe’s claim for relief is sufficiently plausible.”
Doe’s lawyer, Donna Grodner, called the ruling “a stand-up victory for the Baton Rouge PD.”