Case Overview

In July 2016, protests unfolded in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, after local police shot and killed Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old black man. It was the first of two high-profile police shootings of black men within several days, capturing the nation’s attention and fueling large demonstrations.

DeRay Mckesson, a civil-rights activist, helped stage one of those protests. He and other demonstrators gathered near a police station, eventually occupying the highway in front of the station. As officers began arresting demonstrators to clear the highway, someone threw a rock that struck and injured a police officer. Unable to identify the rock-hurler, the officer instead sued Mckesson for damages, alleging that even though Mckesson didn’t throw the rock, he was still responsible for the officer’s injuries because he organized the protest.

If people can sue demonstrators for the unlawful acts of others, it will deter all but the hardiest Americans from exercising their rights to assemble and demonstrate. FIRE filed an amicus brief asking the Supreme Court to accept the case and reverse the ruling of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. FIRE’s brief points out that the Fifth Circuit’s decision is inconsistent with the recent decision in Counterman v. Colorado, which ruled that Americans cannot be held liable for “negligent” speech. The Supreme Court should therefore summarily accept the case and reverse, ordering the Fifth Circuit to re-evaluate the case under this recent precedent.