February 8, 2022
The murder of Mike Brown and the Ferguson uprising exposed Ferguson’s practices of predatory policing, operating an extortionary municipal court, and illegally jailing impoverished people. Seven years ago, Keilee Fant and 9 other plaintiffs sued Ferguson for violating their constitutional rights; they have been fighting for justice and accountability ever since. Ms. Fant and her attorneys at ArchCity Defenders (ACD), Civil Rights Corps (CRC), SLU Law Legal Clinic, and White & Case LLP, have won three motions to dismiss and two appeals to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. In November 2021, attorneys filed a motion to certify the lawsuit as a class action– impacting thousands of people whose rights were violated by Ferguson from 2010 to present.
Between the ages of 17 and 37, Keilee Fant was jailed by the City of Ferguson more than a dozen times for her inability to pay court fines and fees on old traffic tickets. Of the many traumatic experiences Ms. Fant survived, one time Ferguson jailed her for 50 days without a toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, shower, or change of clothes for unpaid traffic tickets because she could not afford to buy her release. During that time, Ms. Fant missed her father’s funeral. On that occasion, the City of Ferguson attempted to bargain with Ms. Fant’s family to get them to pay several thousand dollars to secure her release.
Tragically, Ms. Fant is only one of thousands of people that Ferguson has wronged. Now, over ten years later, Ms. Fant and thousands of others are still fighting for justice, accountability, and closure from Ferguson. To this day, Ms. Fant and her children intentionally avoid driving through Ferguson, a practice common to other plaintiffs and their families because of the trauma they have suffered.
“I’m still affected, it has taken a lot out of me,” said Keilee Fant, lead plaintiff in the lawsuit. “It was so inhumane that people couldn’t believe it when it actually did go on, and there were plenty of people that have had to deal with it.”
“For many years, our plaintiffs and thousands of others knew that at any moment they could be detained by police, arrested, and separated from their families because of money owed to municipalities. This fear remains,” said Jack Waldron, Lead Attorney with ArchCity’s Civil Rights Litigation unit. “We look forward to finally securing compensation for Ms. Fant and the thousands of others like her for the unconstitutional treatment they endured.”
“These cases present an opportunity for Ferguson and other St. Louis towns to redress years of abuse directed at their poorest citizens,” said Marco Lopez, an attorney with Civil Rights Corps, which represents Ms. Fant and her co-plaintiffs. “The decades-long racial and social fragmentation of St. Louis County has produced a patchwork of underfunded cities that struggle to make ends meet without extortion through law enforcement. The time is ripe for accountability and reform.”
“Ferguson’s most vulnerable citizens have been harmed by the unconstitutional practices of the city’s law enforcement system for too long,” said White & Case partner, Angela Daker. “Now, seven years on since the first lawsuit against Ferguson was filed, we are still fighting for and hopeful that justice will be provided to the thousands of people who have had their lives impacted by the unlawful policing practices of the city.”
Data from the Missouri Office of State Courts Administrator shows significant decreases in Ferguson’s court revenue in the past seven years. Ferguson’s municipal court revenue skyrocketed to nearly $2 million in 2014, and has since shrunk to around $200,000. Along with the revenue decreases, Ferguson issued 23,832 tickets and 32,907 warrants in 2014, compared to 3,114 tickets and 1,893 warrants in 2020. Despite these changes, Black people and poor people are still criminalized by the punitive legal system that remains.
In 2016, ArchCity Defenders and co-counsel settled a landmark debtors’ prison class action lawsuit against Jennings, a city neighboring Ferguson. At present, Ferguson and five nearby towns in St. Louis County are litigating similar cases. Of those, the case against the City of Maplewood was recently certified as a class action– with a class including thousands of people.
To view a copy of the Fant vs. Ferguson lawsuit filed in 2015 click here, and to view the motion for class certification recently filed by plaintiffs, click here.