October 6, 2017 at 11:03 am EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Trans activist wins $40,000 settlement in false arrest lawsuit
transgender march, gay news, Washington Blade

Lourdes Ashley Hunter (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The District government has agreed to pay transgender activist Lourdes Ashley Hunter $40,000 to settle a lawsuit that Hunter filed against D.C. police and the city in February.

The lawsuit accuses four police officers of illegally entering Hunter’s apartment in November 2016 and arresting her for misdemeanor simple assault without a warrant.

The settlement, which was approved by a U.S. District Court judge on Oct. 3, came eight months after Hunter and the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented her, argued in the lawsuit that the police officers mistakenly arrested her without probable cause or sufficient evidence.

The lawsuit says the officers based their action on an allegation by a resident of the apartment building where Hunter lives that Hunter pushed him when he and other residents of the building complained to her that she and her guests at a party in her apartment were making too much noise.

According to the lawsuit, Hunter, the co-founder and executive director of the Trans Women of Color Collective, was hosting a dinner and reception in her apartment for activists from throughout the country who were scheduled to attend a White House Transgender Community Briefing with Hunter the following day.

The lawsuit says that a short time after the neighbors complained to her about excessive noise from the party four police officers who were named as defendants in the lawsuit knocked on her door. Upon opening her door one of the officers said they were investigating an assault. Minutes later, the lawsuit says, an officer asked one of the neighbors who also came to Hunter’s door who it was that allegedly “pushed him.”

When the neighbor pointed to Hunter, Hunter immediately disputed the accusation, saying “there had been no assault and that there had been no excessive noise coming from her apartment,” the lawsuit states.

One of the officers then followed Hunter into her apartment, grabbed her by her arm and neck and said he was placing her under arrest. The officer then handcuffed Hunter and escorted her to the courtyard of her building where he left her handcuffed on a picnic bench for about 45 minutes before taking her to the Third Police District for booking. The arrest report said she was charged with misdemeanor simple assault and resisting arrest.

She was held in custody from approximately 11 p.m. on Nov. 16 to 3 a.m. on Nov. 17, the lawsuit says.

Later in day the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which serves as the prosecutor for criminal cases in the District, declined to prosecute the case after reviewing the evidence presented by police, resulting in the charges against her being dropped.

“None of the circumstances provided probable cause, or any reason, for any of the officers to believe that unless Ms. Hunter was immediately arrested, she might not be apprehended, might cause injuries to others, or might tamper with evidence of, or destroy evidence,” the lawsuit states.

The officers’ action, the lawsuit charges, violated Hunter’s Fourth Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution, which protect against warrantless arrests resulting in unreasonable searches and seizures.

The lawsuit also accused the police officers of making a false arrest in violation of D.C. law.

The lawsuit says Hunter “suffered physical injury and pain as a result of defendants’ unlawful actions, including a pinched nerve in her arm from the tight handcuffs, exacerbated osteo-arthritis in her knee, and back pain.”

It says she also suffered “emotional distress and humiliation at being arrested in front of her friends and colleagues from around the nation who would be with her at the White House the next day.”

D.C. police and the Office of the D.C. Attorney General, which defends the city against lawsuits, did not immediately respond to requests by the media for comment on the settlement.

However, Rob Marus, a spokesperson for the D.C. Attorney General, responded to a Blade inquiry by disclosing that the settlement included a $40,000 payment by the city to Hunter.

Shana Knizhnik, one of the ACLU attorneys that represented Hunter in the lawsuit, told the Blade there were no additional non-monetary terms to the settlement beyond the $40,000 payment.

“We are pleased that Ms. Hunter is able to move forward following this incident and the injuries she’s suffered as a result of it,” Knizhnik said. “We hope that MPD officers will respect D.C. law and the Fourth Amendment going forward in their interactions with all D.C. residents and visitors,” she said.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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