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Local BLM group sues Augusta County sheriff

BLM of Shenandoah Valley

In September, a local grassroots organization sued the Augusta County Sheriff's Office in U.S. District Court. The next hearing on the case has been scheduled for early December. WMRA's Randi B. Hagi reports.

Note:  In addition to the Commonwealth's Attorney, the Augusta County Sheriff's Office and the County have also filed motions to have the lawsuit by BLM dismissed.  An earlier version of this story did not include that information.

Black Lives Matter of the Shenandoah Valley and eight individual plaintiffs allege that the Sheriff Donald Smith, Commonwealth's Attorney Timothy Martin, and Augusta County violated their first, fourth, and fourteenth amendment rights several times during protests this summer.

As the Staunton News Leader reported, the protestors wanted to get body cameras on officers after the department shot two men in two different incidents in May. According to the lawsuit, the protestors were hit with 17 citations of violating a noise ordinance and three arrests for disorderly conduct during demonstrations. Antwhon Suiter, the organization’s president, says the citations were arbitrary.

Credit BLM of Shenandoah Valley
Antwhon Suiter is the president of Black Lives Matter Shenandoah Valley.

ANTWHON SUITER: Protesting with a bullhorn is also federally protected under the constitution … All of it, I feel like, was in retaliation against us, and he's using the noise ordinance as his angle to justify his actions in arresting and charging us.

The lawsuit also alleges that the sheriff or his deputies used excessive force against the group at times. Suiter and his fellow plaintiffs are being represented by Attorney Chris Okay, who has represented the company Nexus Services, Inc. against past and current lawsuits. Suiter said his group's involvement with Nexus began after he invited CEO Mike Donovan to speak at a rally about civil rights.

SUITER: He's supported it -- Nexus has supported the Black Lives Matter movement in any way possible that you could think of, and it's amazing to me.

Smith and Martin, defendants in the lawsuit, both told WMRA that they couldn't discuss pending litigation, but Martin has filed a motion for dismissal of the case. A hearing on that motion has been scheduled for December 6th.

Randi B. Hagi first joined the WMRA team in 2019 as a freelance reporter. Her writing and photography have been featured in The Harrisonburg Citizen, where she previously served as the assistant editor; as well as The Mennonite; Mennonite World Review; and Eastern Mennonite University's Crossroads magazine.