Chicago Raises Bridges to Quell Rioting – But Fails

Chicago Raises Bridges to Quell Rioting – But Fails; Even Felony Charges Not Working, But Civil Law Suits Might

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Chicago Fails To Quell Rioting

WASHINGTON, D.C. (August 11, 2020) -  Chicago raised bridges and suspended train service to quell rioting; Utah is seeking to impose life sentences on rioters in Salt Lake City; and other rioters are facing felony charges in additional cities including Louisville, Eugene, Grand Rapids, Austin, Richmond, and elsewhere.

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But the criminal desecration of statutes and buildings, widespread looting, physical attacks on innocent bystanders as well as law enforcement officers, and even the total destruction of governmental and private buildings continues nevertheless, notes public interest law professor John Banzhaf.

Any prosecutor who files felony charges will probably face intense pressure to drop them, or at least let the rioters plead to much less serious misdemeanors, predicts Banzhaf, who suggests a more effective way of deterring such lawless conduct without relying upon local police and prosecutors, who too often have been reluctant to take the same effective action against rioters as they would if motor cycle gangs or foreign terrorists went on a similar rampage.

Moreover, argues Banzhaf, any prosecutors who try to bring felony cases to court will find it very difficult to prove each element of the crime by the very high proof standard of "beyond a reasonable doubt," and may face judges who are sympathetic to the rioters' cause.

That's why Professor Banzhaf suggests that when protesters cross the line and engage in clearly criminal activities, the victims bring civil torts actions or - using the phrase he popularized, "Sue The Bastards" - where the burden of proof is much less, and the process is controlled by the victims and their attorneys, not public officials subject to pressure.

Using Civil Lawsuits As A Weapon

He notes that, in New York City, victims are in fact beginning to sue those whose criminal conduct caused injury, with one law suit already filed, one by a civilian broadcaster being weighed, and several more promised.

A New York City police detective has filed a civil tort suit seeking monetary damages against an alleged rioter for physical injuries he allegedly sustained during widespread looting.

Moreover, the president of the New York City Detectives' Endowment Association, which represents some 19,000 current and former detectives, has vowed to sue any protestor, rioter or looter who attacked its members.

In addition, a broadcaster in New York discussed on his TV program his hopes of suing the criminals who damaged his studio during the New York City rioting.

Quell Rioting With Legal Challenges?

And a civil law suit inspired by Banzhaf against those who unlawfully blocked a bridge, effectively imprisoning thousands in their cars, and allegedly leading to death when an ambulance was delayed, is ongoing.

Civil law suits by victims of criminal actions by rioters have several advantages not only over the usual practice of misdemeanor arrests and minor fines, or even charging the rioters with felonies.

First, in a civil action, the plaintiff need only prove his case by a mere "preponderance of the evidence," not the much more difficult standard of "beyond a reasonable doubt" which applies in both misdemeanor and felony criminal trials.

Second, the plaintiff in a civil trial need only prove that the defendant was part of the group of rioters who destroyed property or caused other harm, and need not identify the one who actually set the fire, threw the paint bomb, etc.

Third, the victim can sue any one or more of the rioters he is able to identify - from police arrest and other records, from video shot by news organizations, bystanders, or even participants, eye witnesses, etc. - and obtain a civil judgment against any single rioter for the entire amount of the damages under the doctrine of just and several liability, even if he was only one of many, and perhaps played only a minor role.

Fourth, unlike criminal trials which are controlled by a prosecutor who can be pressured to reduce the charges, accept a plea to a minor offense, or even drop the prosecution, a civil trial is under the control of the plaintiff and his counsel, and need not depend on the good will or backbone of a government prosecutor.

Thus those who suffered personal injury and/or property damage as a result of the prior riots, or riots which might occur in the future, have a novel weapon which some are using or considering using, since even massive law enforcement presence, arrests or threats of arrests, curfews, raising bridges, or leaders urging peaceful protests were not able to deter rioters, says Banzhaf.

One journalist has now brought a civil law suit, and another has publicly discussed bringing such an action, says Banzhaf, who has been urging adding civil law suits, and especially class actions, to the weapons against those who engage in criminal conduct to make a point.

Journalist Filing Law Suits To Quell Rioting

Journalist Andy Ngo has just filed a law suit against rioters and others who physically beat him while he was covering a protest which turned into a riot. The law suit, filed in Oregon's Multnomah County, includes claims of assault, battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress and Oregon's Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) Act.

More recently, journalist John Tabacco discussed, on his program "Liquid Lunch," how he is considering bringing a law suit for damages his TV studio suffered as a result of the recent riots. Banzhaf, who was his on-air guest on the program, explained the advantages of a civil law suit, and how Tabacco might go about bringing it.

Banzhaf notes that civil law suits against those who commit criminal riots in concert with others - even for those actions far less serious and less harmful than burning buildings and assaulting police or even blocking traffic -  to try to advance their cause have also been successful in a number of notable instances.

Indeed, as early as 1988, a federal jury found two white supremacist groups - the Ku Klux Klan and the Southern White Knights - and 11 people responsible for the violent disruption of a 1987 civil rights march in Forsyth County, Ga., and awarded nearly $1 million in damages to the plaintiffs who filed the suit

Banzhaf, famous for developing novel winning law suits - including over $12 million from McDonald's over its french fries, and against Spiro Agnew to recover the money he took in bribes - has been called "a Driving Force Behind the Lawsuits That Have Cost Tobacco Companies Billions of Dollars," "The Law Professor Who Masterminded Litigation Against the Tobacco Industry," and an "Entrepreneur of Litigation, [and] a Trial Lawyer's Trial Lawyer."