The American Civil Liberties Union in Washington, D.C., filed a complaint against the District’s National Guard Wednesday on behalf of a woman who says she suffered injuries caused by low-flying military helicopters during a June 1 protest in the nation’s capital.
Baltimore resident Dzhuliya Dashtamirova, 23, says storm-strength rotor wash used by Guard helicopters to disperse protesters caused her bodily harm and inflicted severe emotional distress. The complaint seeks $200,000 under the Federal Tort Claims Act.
Dashtamirova was among a crowd of protesters who encountered a UH-60 Blackhawk and a UH-72 Lakota with red cross markings at about 10 p.m. as they marched near Gallery Place, the complaint stated. The helicopters followed the crowd to Judiciary Square, where one helicopter descended as low as a few stories above the ground.
“The helicopters were operated by National Guard pilots, who had received orders to use the vehicles to disperse the demonstrations,” the complaint reads. “Without warning or a dispersal order, the Blackhawk descended low above the protesters and hovered there for approximately four minutes. When the Blackhawk flew away, the Lakota relieved it, flying as low as 45 feet above the ground.”
The ACLU complaint said “whipped debris” stung Dashtamirova’s body and face, irritating her eyes for several days. After the incident, she “lost sleep, struggled to concentrate at work, and spent hours trying to process the incident and grapple with her fears that it would occur again,” the complaint reads.
Michael Perloff, an ACLU attorney, called the helicopters' tactics "a dangerous, unprecedented show of force against American civilians exercising their First Amendment rights.”
“The streets of D.C. are not a war zone, and protesters are not the enemy," Perloff said in a statement. "Our government should stop treating them that way.”
The incident has been separately investigated by military officials.
Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy said Tuesday during a call with reporters that the Department of Defense inspector general is reviewing an Army Regulation 15-6 investigation into the incident.
“The Army has completed its portion [of the investigation],” McCarthy said. “[DoD IG personnel] review these in these cases. … It is my understanding it will be released when it is completed.”
McCarthy said the investigation’s release will be “at the discretion” of the DoD IG when asked by a reporter whether it would be released prior to the November election.
Demonstrators were out in D.C. this summer as part of nationwide protests against police brutality. Civil unrest was sparked by the May 25 killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody and saw the activation of Army and Air Force Guardsmen across the country.
The ACLU complaint notes that the June 1 incident occurred hours after what an Army Guard officer described as tear gas was employed to clear demonstrators from Lafayette Square outside the White House. President Donald Trump then walked through the area to stage a photo event in front of a historic church there.
National Guard Maj. Adam DeMarco, who was present at Lafayette Square that day, said in his late July congressional testimony that the forceful clearing of protesters took place without an apparent provocation or adequate warning to demonstrators.
The helicopters used June 1 were part of a large contingent of nearly 4,000 Guardsmen dispatched during the D.C. protests, including some soldiers from a Special Forces Guard unit based in Utah. Though state governors command their respective Guard forces, the D.C. Guard reports only to the president.
The military has six months to respond to the ACLU complaint under the Federal Tort Claims Act. The ACLU will then have another six months to initiate a tort claims lawsuit in federal court.
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter who has covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq.