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A federal judge has rejected a motion by the Milwaukee Police Department that sought to dismiss a case brought by two city residents who claimed their constitutional rights were violated when they were arrested near a memorial site for a Black man fatally shot by an officer in 2016.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin is representing the residents, including Jarrett English and a plaintiff who did not wish to be named. They were arrested on Aug. 30, 2016 in Milwaukee’s Sherman Park neighborhood where police killed Sylville Smith approximately two weeks earlier. The 23-year-old Smith, who was armed, was running from police who suspected him of dealing drugs. The officer who killed Smith, also Black, was acquitted in the fatal shooting.
Smith’s death touched off days of rioting in which business were burned, including a gas station, an auto parts store and a beauty supply shop. Firefighters were held back from the gas station blaze because of gunfire.
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The two plaintiffs, in their 2019 lawsuit, said their rights to the freedoms to assemble and to express themselves were violated when police in riot gear cleared Smith’s memorial site and arrested each of them at separate locations in the neighborhood.
“Both of our clients were traumatized by their unlawful arrests. Police do not have the power to intimidate and arrest people at their whim, and we are glad that the judge ruled that a jury will decide whether Milwaukee Police violated their constitutional rights,” said Larry Dupuis, legal director of the ACLU of Wisconsin. “People should be able to participate in and observe protests without fear that they will be unlawfully detained by police.”
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The Milwaukee Police Department declined to comment because the legal case is ongoing. The federal judge made the ruling last week.