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Fort Lauderdale, police sued for violent 2020 attacks against protesters of George Floyd murder

Five Black individuals stand on a street corner.
Elise Gregg
/
WLRN
Plaintiffs and attorneys stand on the corner where police attacked protestors in 2020.

An attorney announced he’s filed a class-action lawsuit against the city of Fort Lauderdale and its police department for launching tear gas and rubber bullets without provocation at a group of protestors who demonstrated against police brutality four years ago just days after the murder of George Floyd by police in Minnesota.

“The City of Fort Lauderdale Police Department did not like their message, did not like their decision to assemble, and for an hour deployed tear gas and [rubber bullets] to ensure that they could not speak anymore,” attorney Michael Davis, told reporters Monday at a press conference in Fort Lauderdale, where the May 31, 2020, protests took place.

Fort Lauderdale Detective Ali Adamson told WLRN that the department does not comment on pending litigation.

Davis was joined by several protesters, including LaToya Ratlieff, who suffered a fractured eye socket after being shot in the face with a rubber bullet.

Ratlieff filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in 2022, a legal action that has opened the door for the latest federal class action lawsuit against the city of Fort Lauderdale and the city police department.

“The point of us being out there was to advocate to ensure that people who look like me didn’t go through this experience,” Ratlieff told reporters. “It’s something that I replay often.”

A Black women in a dress speaks into microphones outside with several people behind her.
Elise Gregg
/
WLRN
LaToya Ratlieff speaks to reporters on June 3 to discuss the federal class action lawsuit.

At the time of the 2020 protest, police claimed they were responding to “violent agitators” allegedly jumping and pounding on the car of an officer on the corner of SE 2nd Street & 1st Ave. That officer claimed she was in imminent danger.

A Miami Herald investigation later called into question the police account of events, with that protestors around the officer’s car didn’t come near it.

The officer, Officer Stylianee Hayes, would eventually admit under oath that she hadn’t actually seen anyone jumping on her vehicle and that the scene she described in her distress call was false.

Now, a new forensic analysis from Ratlieff’s civil rights lawsuit confirmed the Herald’s investigation. Audio and video synchronized from the scene reveals that the violence from that evening did not begin with protestors, but was instead the result of an .

“They’ve taken away something from me that was supposed to be a moment where I was able to be a part of something,” said Ratlieff, speaking Monday to reporters on the same corner where she was shot four years ago. “Where I was able to use my voice and we were able to collectively use our voice to say we just want better.”

“Not only did they take that away from us, but they actually made it worse.”

Two of the plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit, Jayanna Jackson and Mike Gabelus, also spoke Monday, describing what happened the night of the protest.

“I was tear gassed — I was scared,” said Jackson, a mother of four who said the murder of George Floyd broke her heart. “I came here four years ago to raise my voice against the brutality he suffered and advocate for positive change.”

“As a community, we must stand so this doesn’t happen again."

Gabelus said he was also tear gassed, while assisting Ralieff that same night, helping her into a stranger’s car to go to the hospital after being shot in the face with a rubber bullet.

“The police were there, and they didn’t provide any kind of help,” Gabelus said. “This lawsuit is merely about accountability that the Fort Lauderdale Police Department doesn’t want to take.”

The lawsuit seeks damages, attorney’s fees, injunctive relief and other relief the court deems appropriate against both the city and the police department.

Davis said anyone in the crowd the night of the protest and subjected to tear gas and rubber bullets can join the lawsuit as a plaintiff, and can visit the firm's or email Kuehne Davis Law at .

The protestors in Fort Lauderdale on May 31, 2020, were among tens of thousands who held protests in major cities across the country, prompting officials to deploy thousands of National Guard soldiers and enacted strict curfews in major cities.

Floyd, who was Black, , after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who is white, kneeled on his neck for 9 1/2 minutes on the street outside a convenience store where Floyd tried to pass a counterfeit $20 bill. A bystander video captured Floyd’s fading cries of “I can’t breathe.” Chauvin was convicted of murder in 2021.

Floyd’s death touched off protests worldwide, some of which and forced a national and racism.

Elise Catrion Gregg is a summer 2024 intern for WLRN. She is finishing her master's degree in criminal justice from Florida International University, where she also earned her bachelor's degree in journalism.
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