A federal judge on Tuesday preliminarily approved a proposed settlement resolving a class action that accuses law enforcement agencies in Louisiana’s capital of violating the constitutional rights of protesters who were arrested after a deadly police shooting. Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson is one of nearly 80 arrested protesters who are eligible for cash payments ranging from $500 to $1,000 if the settlement gets the court’s final approval. U.S. Magistrate Judge Erin Wilder-Doomes said the agreement “appears fair in all respects.” U.S. District Judge John W. deGravelles is scheduled to hold a Sept. 21 hearing before deciding whether to give it his final approval.
Police arrested nearly 200 people at protests in Baton Rouge after a white police officer shot and killed Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old black man, during a struggle outside a convenience store on July 5, 2016. The Justice Department investigated the shooting and announced earlier this month that it won’t file criminal charges against the two officers who struggled with Sterling. Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry’s office is investigating whether any state charges are warranted.
The settlement’s class is limited to protesters who were arrested only on charges of obstructing a highway. The local district attorney announced last July that roughly 100 arrested protesters wouldn’t be prosecuted on that charge. Besides the cash payments, the deal also calls for expunging their criminal records free of charge. Plaintiffs’ attorney Roy Rodney Jr. said that is the most important component of the deal because it ensures a criminal record won’t follow the arrested protesters, many of whom are young adults.
“In this case, they weren’t doing anything wrong,” he said Tuesday. Mckesson and two other arrested protesters were named as plaintiffs in the suit against the city of Baton Rouge and officials from the city’s police department, the local sheriff’s office and the Louisiana State Police.
The lawsuit, filed last August, claims police advanced against peaceful protesters while wearing military gear and gas masks and brandishing assault weapons alongside armored vehicles. Sterling was selling homemade CDs outside the Triple S Food Mart when two officers, Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake II, were dispatched to the store to investigate a report of a man with a gun. Salamoni and Lake wrestled Sterling to the ground after he didn’t comply with commands to put his hands on the hood of a car, the Justice Department said.
During the struggle on the ground, Salamoni shot Sterling three times after yelling that Sterling was reaching for a gun in his pocket, and fired three more shots into Sterling’s back when he began to sit up and move, federal investigators found. The officers retrieved a loaded revolver from Sterling’s pocket after the shooting, according to federal authorities. Racial tensions in Baton Rouge were still simmering last summer when a black military veteran from Missouri ambushed and killed three Baton Rouge law enforcement officers and wounded three others before being shot dead on July 17.