A bodyguard for President Erdogan kicks a demonstrator in Washington in 2017. (VOA photo)

U.S. Supreme Court seeks Biden Administration’s view on Turkish immunity for attack on peaceful protestors in DC


WASHINGTON (Law.com) — The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday, April 18, asked for the views of the Biden administration on whether the justices should review Turkey’s claims of immunity from a lawsuit over a violent altercation in 2017 between Turkish security forces and protestors in the nation’s capital.

The justices called for the views of the U.S. solicitor general in the case, Republic of Turkey v. Usoyan. In its petition, Turkey claims its presidential security detail is immune from tort liability for its use of physical force during an official state visit because of the “discretionary function” exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.

David Saltzman of Washington, D.C.’s Saltzman & Evinch represents Turkey. With him on the petition are Cathy Hinger of D.C.’s Womble Bond Dickinson and Mark Schamel of Lowenstein Sandler.

A brief opposing review by the high court has been filed by longtime victims’ advocate Steven Perles of the Perles Law Firm in D.C. He is assisted by a team of lawyers from Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll; Public Citizen Litigation Group; teams of attorneys from Bregman, Berbert, Schwartz & Gilday and Dorsey & Whitney; and Michael Tigar of Duke University Law School.

The May 2017 incident occurred outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence. President Recep Erdogan had met that day with then-President Donald Trump. Protestors had gathered across the street from the ambassador’s residence following clashes with pro-Erdogan supporters. After Erdogan arrived by car, Turkish security forces and Erdogan supporters broke through a U.S. law enforcement line separating the groups and attacked the protestors, according to Perles’ brief.

The protesters were left bloodied and disoriented, with concussions, lost teeth, and other serious injuries, according to Perles.

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Ruling in two separate lawsuits filed by the injured protestors, a federal district court held that “Turkey cannot rely on the discretionary function rule to maintain its immunity because defendant Turkey’s exercise of discretion relating to the violent physical attack on the protesters was not grounded in social, economic, or political policy and was not of a nature and quality that Congress intended to shield from liability.”

On appeal by Turkey, the United States supported the injured protestors, writing in its brief that the security forces’ conduct “cannot reasonably be regarded as an exercise of the agents’ protective function.” The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit affirmed the district court judgment.


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