The ACLU of Indiana and Sidley Austin LLP today filed a lawsuit on behalf of Balin Brake, a 21-year-old resident of Fort Wayne whose right eye was destroyed while he was peacefully protesting on May 30. An unidentified Fort Wayne Police Department (FWPD) officer fired a tear gas canister directly at Brake’s face, rupturing his eye and fracturing his facial bones in four places.
The lawsuit filed against the City of Fort Wayne and a FWPD officer argues that the excessive force used to interfere with and stop Brake’s protesting violated both the First and Fourth Amendments to the United States Constitution.
Brake had gathered with other protesters at the Allen County Courthouse to peacefully demonstrate against police brutality in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis by police officers. According to the complaint, the FWPD officer fired a tear gas canister that, upon impact, threw Brake to the ground where he stayed, coughing from the tear gas and hunched over in pain, until another protester carried him to safety. Brake was rushed to the hospital and doctors were forced to remove his eye during surgery.
“FWPD have shown a reckless indifference to constitutional rights in their attempt to deprive the Fort Wayne community of their right to free speech, leaving Mr. Brake with a permanent loss of vision in his right eye,” said Jane Henegar, executive director at the ACLU of Indiana. “The right to protest is fundamental to our democracy and no one should face tear gassing and injury while exercising that right.”
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana.