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A Letter to the Unified Command on the Rights of Protesters

November 24, 2014

Via Facsimile and Email 

Sam Dotson, Chief of Police
City of St. Louis
1915 Olive Street
St. Louis, MO 63103

Jon Belmar, Chief of Police
St. Louis County
7900 Forsyth Blvd.
St. Louis, MO 63105

Captain Ronald S. Johnson
891 Technology Drive Weldon Spring, MO 63304

Daniel Isom, Director
Missouri Dept. of Public Safety
1101 Riverside Drive P.O. Box 749 Jefferson City, MO 65102

Dear Members of the Unified Command,

Since August 9, 2014, governmental agencies have acted to intimidate protesters, have unjustifiably denounced them as violent, impeded their entry or exit from demonstrations, assaulted them with chemical agents such as pepper spray, shot them with so-called “less-than-lethal” projectiles, rounded them up in mass arrests, sought exaggerated charges, and abused them while in custody.

Despite previous acknowledgment of rules of engagement for police interaction with citizens exercising their constitutional rights, and claims made by representatives of Unified Command at a press conference yesterday, actions of police to date — including activity within the last 72 hours — raise significant concerns that constitutional rights will not be respected during actions following the announcement of the Grand Jury’s decision.

The undersigned represent individuals and organizations who have engaged in constitutionally protected protest activity since August and plan to further engage in constitutionally protected activities following the announcement of the Grand Jury decision, and thereafter. We write to share our deep concerns with the anticipated police response to this activity. We request an immediate response to this letter clarifying the Unified Command’s position on these essential rights guaranteed under the United States and Missouri Constitutions.

Suppression of Spontaneous Speech and Freedom of Assembly 

The arrests in Ferguson over the past three nights have specifically and violently targeted individuals engaged in protected First Amendment activity. Despite repeated assurances that the police would not interfere with constitutionally protected activity and not appear in the first instance in riot gear, these aggressive tactics, including apparent arrests without probable cause, use of riot gear and body armor, use of pepper spray, and assault of protesters with body armor, contradict this claim.

We request your assurance that the following unconstitutional actions will not occur:

● General dispersal orders directed to groups without probable cause to believe the group plans to violate the law.

● Use of police lines to trap, detain, and prohibit free movement without lawful basis and without clear notice of violation, lawful orders, and opportunity to comply with any such lawful order, including orders to disperse and clear avenues of exit for any such dispersal.

● Arrests or detention without individualized probable cause.

● Searches and seizures of property without warrant or probable cause.

● Excessive bail and over-charging.

Intimidation of Citizens 

In recent weeks, individual organizers have reported obvious and overt police surveillance. It appears that law enforcement under the Unified Command, including federal authorities working with Unified Command, are engaged in a campaign of intimidation and harassment. The design of such surveillance is to discourage constitutionally protected activity, and constitutes illegal intimidation and a prior restraint of free speech. We hereby request that Unified Command and all officers under its charge immediately cease and desist all surveillance and targeting of members of the community for their exercise of protected speech and involvement in protest activity.

Illegal Raids 

Citizens are organizing lawful expressive activities around the return of the Grand Jury’s decision. Citizens intend to participate in marches, rallies, and other protected activities over the days leading up to and following the return of the Grand Jury’s decision. The people planning their participation at these events are making signs, banners, and political artwork. They are holding meetings and trainings regarding these activities at various locations around the region.

These are all core forms of protected speech and petitioning activities under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Based upon the demonstrated past conduct of St. Louis City Police during protest activity, including preemptive raids of homes and organizational headquarters without warrants and through the pretextual use of purported housing code violations, we hereby advise that any such raids of gathering spaces, offices, safe houses or residences violate the First and Fourth Amendments.

Under clearly established law, the unlawful and pretextual use of an administrative inspection or search violates the Fourth Amendment. New York v. Burger, 482 U.S. 691 (1987); Camara v. Municipal Court, 387 U.S 523 (1967). Should the City or County or any jurisdiction under Unified Command take such preemptive action, we are prepared to proceed with litigation to immediately protect constitutional rights and to pursue any claims for damages arising as a result of such actions.

Due to the importance and urgency of these matters, your immediate response to these concerns is requested. Please advise us as to specific individuals within Unified Command and City, County, and State government with decision-making authority over these matters. We can be reached by telephone as follows: Thomas Harvey at (314) 482-3342, Denise Lieberman at (314) 780-1833 and Brendan Roediger at (314) 749-0424.


Denise Lieberman, Senior Attorney, Advancement Project
Co-chair, Don’t Shoot Coalition

Brendan Roediger, Professor of Law
St. Louis University School

Thomas Harvey, Executive Director

Michael-John Voss, Managing Attorney

Arch City Defenders

Vince Warren, Executive Director

Purvi Shah, Staff Attorney
Center for Constitutional Rights

Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, Executive Director
The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund

William P. Quigley, Professor of Law
Loyola University New Orleans

Justin Hansford, Professor of Law
St. Louis University School of Law

John Ammann, Professor of Law
St. Louis University School of Law

Sarah K. Molina, Esq.
Molina Immigration Law, LLC.

William T. Quick, Member of the Board
National Lawyers Guild – St. Louis

Joseph P. Welch, Member of the Board
National Lawyers Guild – St. Louis

Maggie Ellinger-Locke, President
National Lawyers Guild, St. Louis Chapter

CC: Francis Slay, Mayor, City of St. Louis

Charlie Dooley, County Executive, St. Louis County

Jay Nixon, Governor, State of Missouri