Protesters file lawsuit against local law enforcement claiming unlawful arrests

Local News

PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — A group of out-of-town protesters has initiated a legal battle between Peoria-based companies and local law enforcement.

Americans Resisting Minority & Ethnic Discrimination, a Chicago-based civil rights group, and members of Soy Libre held a press conference Wednesday afternoon at the Federal Courthouse in downtown Peoria, detailing the lawsuit that was filed the same day.

The lawsuit targets Sheriff Brian Asbell, State’s Attorney Jodi Hoos, Peoria County, Pinnacle Security Innovations and three of its employees, and Jeffrey Fick, Chief Legal Officer of RLI Insurance.

The 17-page lawsuit claims a violation of the protester’s First Amendment rights as well as unlawful arrests and highlights two specific incidents.

The first incident occurred on Sept. 20. Bishop Frank Jackson, founding director of A.R.M.E.D, said he and protesters were outside of an RLI executive’s home.

Jackson said he was filming the protest for his news service when men from Pinnacle Security arrived, informed him that he was trespassing on private property yet prevented him from leaving until police arrived. Jackson called the incident “unlawful detainment.”

The second incident happened Oct. 2 where protesters, again, gathered in the street to protest in front of the home of another RLI executive. Sheriff Brian Asbell provided WMBD with the bodycam footage of the incident.

The video shows Peoria County Sheriff’s deputies asking the protesters multiple times to leave the area.

“This was an event where we basically pleaded with them not to force us to arrest them,” Asbell said.

After two hours the protesters started to disperse, but a few remained. The deputy on video continued to ask them to leave, informing them if they didn’t they’d be arrested.

Eventually, the only two protesters refusing to leave, Michael Phillips, 23, and Cortez Nathan, 18, were taken into custody and charged with criminal trespassing and obstructing an officer.

Sheriff Asbell said he’s proud of the way his officers handled the situation. He said he believes the protesters orchestrated their own arrests and are paid to disrupt the community.

“This is, in my opinion, a waste of local resources at a different level,” Asbell said. “These are individuals not even from our community. They, in my opinion, are paid agitators who came down here with a purpose and they have orchestrated a lot of events and it’s disappointing that they’re using the Black Lives Matter’s movement to misrepresent what they’re trying to accomplish.”

A member of A.R.M.E.D. listed as a plaintiff in the case is asking for monetary compensation for pain and suffering. The lawsuit also asks the court to prohibit the use of laws to charge citizens who are “peacefully protesting on a public road in front of a home.”

Representatives from RLI and States Attorney Jodi Hoos couldn’t be reached for comment.

The group A.R.M.E.D and its protesters have conducted multiple protests against RLI Insurance over the past month, accusing the company of a security breach that put immigrant information at risk. They also recently held a sit-in at the Peoria County Courthouse.

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