The United States Department of Justice says Capitol Police officers who were injured at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 can sue former President Donald Trump.
In a federal court filing, the DOJ’s Civil Divison said Trump’s conduct on that day “plainly falls outside the President’s constitutional and statutory duties” and therefore is not protected by the umbrella of executive power.
“Speaking to the public on matters of public concern is a traditional function of the Presidency, and the outer perimeter of the President’s Office includes a vast realm of such speech,” the DOJ stated in its brief. “But that traditional function is one of public communication. It does not include incitement of imminent private violence of the sort the district court found that plaintiffs’ complaints have plausibly alleged here.”
“A court considering a claim seeking to hold a President liable for violence allegedly connected with his speech should deny absolute immunity only if the speech, viewed objectively and in context, both encouraged imminent private violence and was likely to produce such violence,” the DOJ added.
A group of seven Capitol Police officers who were at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 filed a lawsuit against Trump and an allegedly pro-Trump militia group in August of 2021 in the US District Court in Washington. Other defendants include Roger Stone and Stop the Steal, an organization that planned the Jan. 6 rally. The officers contend Trump and his supporters conspired to violently overturn the results of the 2020 election.
“Because of Defendants’ unlawful actions, Plaintiffs were violently assaulted, spat on, tear-gassed, bear-sprayed, subjected to racial slurs and epithets, and put in fear for their lives,” stated the lawsuit. “Plaintiffs’ injuries, which Defendants caused, persist to this day.”
The plaintiffs also claim that “racism and white supremacy pervaded Defendants’ efforts from the outset” and that “they relied on white supremacist groups and sympathizers to organize and hold rallies and to help plan and carry out the Capitol Attack.”
The officers claim Trump “employed, planned for, and encouraged the use of force, intimidation, and threats to try to stop the Congressional count of electoral votes on January 6” and that he refused to “call off the attackers… for hours as he watched on live television the attackers overrun the Capitol and threaten its lawful occupants.”
Two other members of the Capitol Police, Officers James Blassingame and Sidney Hemby, sued Trump in March of 2021. Blassingame and Hemby said the former president had “inflamed, encouraged, incited, directed, and aided and abetted” a riot and caused an insurrection that led to the death of five people.
The officers were seeking monetary compensation, including a minimum of $75,000, per NPR.
Neither lawsuit names the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Capitol Police Assistant Chief Sean Gallagher testified in a briefing that the FBI did not warn the law enforcement agency of potential threats despite being in contact with informants within the Proud Boys before Jan. 6.
Gallagher’s January 2021 testimony contradicted a statement from Steven D’Antuono, the head of the FBI’s Washington, D.C., field office.
The DOJ did note that its brief did not constitute a position on the criminal investigation it is currently conducting to determine if Trump can face charges stemming from the events of Jan. 6, 2021.