October 25, 2021
Today in federal court, ArchCity Defenders and the Powell Law Firm filed a lawsuit on behalf of Tranell Stewart and Lisa Jones, respectively, alleging that officers of the Maryland Heights Police Department (MHPD) used excessive force against Mr. Stewart and unlawfully searched Mr. Stewart’s and Ms. Jones’ home. On October 26, 2016, Tranell Stewart, a 33-year-old Black man and father was driving home with his infant son when MHPD officer Ryan Devouton pulled Mr. Stewart over as he was turning into his apartment’s parking lot. From there, Devouton escalated the encounter, taunted Mr. Stewart by telling him, “You’re going to die today,” pulled him by his hair, and punched him. When MHPD officer Alexander Waldroup arrived, he punched Mr. Stewart down to the ground. The two officers continued to hit Mr. Stewart while he was lying on the pavement, handcuffed, despite him yelling for them to stop. Waldroup stomped on Mr. Stewart’s head multiple times. Mr. Stewart sustained several serious injuries and trauma from the callous assault. Following that, Maryland Heights police unlawfully ransacked the home of Mr. Stewart and his son’s mother, Ms. Lisa Jones.
ArchCity Defenders, on behalf of Tranell Stewart, and the Powell Law firm, on behalf of Lisa Jones, have filed a lawsuit against the City of Maryland Heights and MHPD officers Alexander Waldroup, Ryan Devouton, Cliff House, Kevin Devine, and Shane Monnig, for violating Mr. Stewart and Ms. Jones’ Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. MHPD officers Devouton and Waldroup repeatedly assaulted Mr. Stewart after a bogus police stop. After brutalizing Mr. Stewart, the named MHPD officers coerced Ms. Jones, and unlawfully searched their home. Annual data published by the Missouri Attorney General’s Office contextualizes the allegations in the suit and details Maryland Heights’ pattern of racially discriminatory detention and search of Black drivers more frequently than white drivers.
“I want accountability first and foremost. I think a lot of people can learn from my experience because I’m actually lucky to be here. I want people to know how Maryland Heights police operate,” said Tranell Stewart. “I can’t say anything positive, I can’t say be safe because these are the people who are supposed to be protecting and serving us. It’s like we’re under attack.”
A link to the lawsuit can be found here.
“In every year for each of the past twenty years, officers of the Maryland Heights Police Department have stopped Black drivers at rates two to three times above their demographic representation in the city,” said Jack Waldron, Lead Attorney, with ArchCity’s Civil Litigation department. “These stops have consequences. Maryland Heights’ unlawful stop of Mr. Stewart led to his brutal assault at the hands of two police officers. We look forward to shining a light on these practices and seeking justice for Mr. Stewart.”
Defendant Devouton pulled Mr. Stewart over for allegedly failing to use his turn signal. When Mr. Stewart denied failing to signal, Devouton said, “Well I say you did.” When Mr. Stewart tried to get out of the car to get his fussing son from the back seat, Devouton shoved Mr. Stewart against the car and immediately escalated the situation by grabbing Mr. Stewart’s hair in an attempt to bring him to the ground. As he did this, Defendant Devouton taunted, “You’re going to die today.” Defendant Waldroup soon arrived and the two officers together assaulted Mr. Stewart, culminating in Waldroup stomping Mr. Stewart’s head into the pavement and kicking him in the eye.
MHPD officers then stormed into the family’s apartment and, when they did not get consent to search the home, threatened to arrest Ms. Jones and send her children to protective services.
Maryland Heights, one of 88 municipalities in St. Louis County maintains a custom of stopping and unlawfully searching and seizing of Black people traveling through or living in the city. Annual reports released by the Missouri Attorney General’s Office from 2011 to 2016 indicate Maryland Heights has had a racial “Disparity Index” above 2.00 for Black motorists. In 2016, the rate was 3.09, meaning the number of Black drivers pulled over was more than three times their demographic representation in the City. Additionally, Black drivers are searched at a disproportionate rate compared to white drivers, despite finding proof of illegal activity more frequently with white drivers. The lawsuit states that Maryland Heights knew of and has failed to remedy these systemic practices- and is deliberately indifferent and culpable for constitutional violations against Mr. Stewart and Ms. Jones.
ArchCity Defenders has filed 10 lawsuits alleging police brutality since 2015. The holistic legal advocacy organization is still litigating cases against St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, and Ferguson, and has settled cases against Pine Lawn, Ferguson, Berkeley, and St. Louis County.
Z Gorley, Communications Director, ArchCity Defenders