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Activists sue Akron after police used chemical weapons at peaceful Jayland Walker protest

An Akron police officer holds up a canister of pepper spray as other officers look on.
Ygal Kaufman
Ideastream Public Media
An Akron police officer holds up a canister of pepper spray.

An activist group filed a federal lawsuit Thursday evening against the City of Akron after officers tear-gassed and pepper-sprayed protesters demanding justice after a grand jury decided not to indict the eight officers who shot and killed a young Black man last summer.

The lawsuit, filed by the Akron Bail Fund, points to Wednesday’s peaceful protest disrupted by police action to prove what they say is a continued pattern of speech-suppression and unnecessary police violence.

What happened Wednesday night?

On Wednesday night, after multiple days of peaceful protests, roughly a dozen law enforcement vehicles from Akron Police Department and Summit County Sheriff’s office approached an ongoing demonstration on Copley Road. Police gave orders for protesters blocking the street to disperse and began deploying pepper spray and tear gas to clear the area.

The city said protesters first threw bottles at officers before chemical weapons were deployed, but reporter footage shows the opposite.

Police Chief Steve Mylett said the department is now reviewing footage to “be sure of the timeline of events” in a written statement released Thursday night.

What does the lawsuit say?

Akron Bail Fund, a nonprofit organization that raised money to release protesters jailed during last summer’s protests, allege repeated violations of protesters' constitutional rights, as well as excessive violence.

In addition to Wednesday’s events, the suit took issue with the city’s move to close its government buildings to the public and barricade streets and sidewalks ahead of the grand jury decision.

The plaintiffs ask that U.S. District Judge Charles Fleming, who will oversee the case, grant a temporary order restraining the city and its agencies, including the police department, from further violating first-amendment speech and assembly through any method, including teargas and pepper spray. The suit also calls to codify that order permanently.

Activists also want a declaration that the city violated citizens’ rights to peacefully protest through speech suppression methods and less-lethal weapons.

They also ask for financial compensation related to organizational harm, physical and mental pain of those affected and punitive damages.

City spokesperson Stephanie Marsh said they will not comment on pending litigation.

Abbey Marshall covers Cleveland-area government and politics for Ideastream Public Media.