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ACLU sues DC, police over use of chemical irritants, stun grenades at racial justice protest

Police in riot gear watch as demonstrators gather to protest the death of George Floyd, Saturday, May 30, 2020, near the White House in Washington. Floyd died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci via CNN)

(CNN) — The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit on behalf of two photojournalists who allege they were hit by chemical irritants and stun grenades by Metropolitan Police Department officers while covering racial justice protests in August 2020.

The lawsuit against the DC government and eight unnamed police officers alleges MPD used less-lethal force on protestors in late August, despite the fact the DC Council had banned the use of chemical munitions and less-lethal projectiles about a month earlier.

One of the plaintiffs, freelance photojournalist Oyoma Asinor, alleges in the lawsuit he identified himself as a journalist but was arrested without probable cause. DC law enforcement detained him overnight but released him without charges, according to Asinor. He says MPD failed to return his cell phone, camera and goggles for nearly a year.

“Mr. Asinor was not involved in any conduct that was unlawful or that could reasonably have been viewed as unlawful,” the lawsuit says.

CNN has reached out to the MPD and DC’s mayor’s office for comment.

Asinor also alleges a DC police officer “who was holding a gun-shaped weapon attached to a small tank, unleashed liquid containing chemical irritant toward the demonstrator and the people near him, hitting Mr. Asinor.” He felt a burning sensation on this neck and “experienced trouble breathing from the chemical irritant spray,” the lawsuit says.

“He was coughing, his eyes watered, and he experienced disorientation,” the lawsuit says.

The other plaintiff, photojournalist Bryan Dozier, alleges a DC police officer “lifted him, and pushed him” toward the “clouds of chemical irritants” produced by chemical irritants from which Dozier was trying to run as police dispersed protestors.

“Mr. Dozier struggled to breath as he moved through the chemical irritants,” the lawsuit says. “He continued to cough, his nose ran, and he felt burning across his face.”

The lawsuit says the experiences caused Dozer to develop post-traumatic stress disorder and caused Asinor to feel jittery and anxious around loud noises.

They are seeking damages to be determined by a trial.