Experienced Equal Rights Advocacy

Peaceful Protestors File Federal Lawsuit Challenging Texas Anti-Rioting Law, Unlawful Arrests

| Jun 30, 2020 | Civil Rights |

Represented by Civil Rights Attorneys David Henderson and Jay Ellwanger, Plaintiffs Sue City of Dallas, Dallas County for Violating First, Fourth Amendment Rights

DALLAS – Three women who were unlawfully arrested, charged, and jailed overnight for participating in peaceful protests in Dallas, TX, have filed a federal class action lawsuit challenging Texas’ anti-rioting laws as unconstitutional. The lawsuit alleges that Dallas authorities violated plaintiffs’ First and Fourth Amendment rights when enforcing vaguely written anti-rioting statutes in order to curb peaceful protests against police brutality.

The plaintiffs are represented by David Henderson and Jay Ellwanger, civil rights attorneys at Ellwanger Law. A copy of the lawsuit can be found here.

“People have the right to speak up about what they believe — especially during moments of national mourning and distress. Using opaque laws to curtail free speech and wrongfully arrest peaceful protestors with excessive force not only is a violation of constitutional and civil rights, but also aims to quash future protests through intimidation,” said David Henderson, civil rights attorney and counsel for Plaintiffs. “Today’s lawsuit again underscores a key distinction in the discourse on police reform: it’s not whether police are ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ but rather whether their training and methods lead them to be excessively violent.”

Dallas residents Yolanda Dobbins, Lily Godinez, and Megan Nordyke were all wrongfully arrested during the protests of the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police officers and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Despite not participating in any unlawful activity, Ms. Godinez and Ms. Nordyke were arrested and charged with riot participation under Texas Penal Code § 42.02, and Ms. Dobbins was charged with obstructing a highway under Texas Penal Code § 42.03.

The lawsuit alleges that through the process of enforcing those vague statutes, Dallas authorities committed “acts of unlawful arrest, excessive force, inadequate training, false arrest, and negligent hiring, retention, and supervision, and intentional emotional injury” — violating Plaintiffs’:

  • Fourth Amendment rights to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures and freedom from deprivation of life and liberty without due process of law;
  • Fourth Amendment right to be free from excessive use of force against their persons during the course of an arrest;
  • First Amendment right to peaceful assembly and free speech.

“After being met with tear gas and rubber bullets despite peacefully protesting, it became clear to me that the police were using arrest as a deterrent to prevent us from protesting the injustices that we as African-Americans experience,” said Plaintiff Yolanda McGriff. “All police know is to arrest. We need police who will stand with us and not against us.”

“The treatment I received was uncalled for, aggressive, and completely unnecessary. The police department needs to take a step back and look at the aggression of their department. I want to make sure that the laws in place are truly protecting the people going out and protesting,” said Plaintiff Lily Gudinez. “I’m hoping for more de-escalation training in the future because there were many opportunities in the protests for the police to calmly de-escalate instead of arresting people.”

“As an attorney, I am shocked at how widespread misunderstanding of the First Amendment has been exploited to deepen division between communities and drive this country toward extreme political opposites,” said Plaintiff Megan Nordyke. “I will continue seeking accountability for systemic injustices that benefit me and all white Americans to the detriment of people of color.”

David Henderson, Jay Ellwanger, and plaintiffs Yolanda Dobbins, Lily Godinez, and Megan Nordyke are all available for comment and interview.