September 17, 2018
After a judge acquitted former police officer Jason Stockley for the murder of Anthony Lamar Smith, people took to the streets of St. Louis to protest not only systemic state violence but the impunity offered yet again to its perpetrators. Two days after the “Stockley Verdict” protests began, St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department ratcheted up their use of militarized, unlawful, and violent tactics, causing direct and tremendous harm to over one hundred innocent people. Around 11 PM on September 17, 2017, downtown residents, members of the media, restaurant patrons, and citizens exercising their 1st Amendment rights were trapped within a one-block radius by SLMPD officers and brutalized with pepper spray and physical force. They were subsequently arrested and detained for up to hours.
Today in federal court, the civil rights law firms of ArchCity Defenders and Khazaeli Wyrsch filed twelve individual lawsuits on behalf of fourteen people who were unlawfully kettled and brutalized by the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department on September 17, 2017 in downtown St. Louis, during a period characterized by the “Stockley verdict” protests. Those filing suits include independent filmmakers, high ranking officers with the US military, college students, and nonprofit professionals. They are a small slice of the 123 people that were illegally pepper sprayed, beat, and arrested that night. The victims included an undercover St. Louis police officer. St. Louis City, Col. Gerald Leyshock, Sgt. Brian Rossomanno are among the named defendants in the lawsuits. Plaintiffs are seeking damages.
“This region is no stranger to protest, and yet it seems that we simply cannot learn from our mistakes. The answer to robust, lawful protest is not violent crackdowns and military-style tactics by police. The kettling arrests of peaceful civilians that took place one year ago constituted a gross violation of the law and abuse of state power, and there are real human beings who suffered as a result,” said Blake Strode, Executive Director of ArchCity Defenders. “The message of these lawsuits is simple: when law enforcement officers, themselves, fail to follow the law, they must be held accountable.”
“Once again, the St. Louis Police Department unleashed chemical munitions on peaceful citizens. We agree with a federal judge’s assessment that these people did nothing wrong,” said Javad Khazaeli, partner of Khazaeli Wyrsch. “For many, the effects are still felt today – from anxiety to loss of work to continued physical pain. We are proud to assist these victims and hopefully make St. Louis a better, safer place
Demetrius Thomas, a freelance cinematographer, went downtown to document events and was trapped in the kettle. His camera equipment was confiscated and ruined, he was grabbed by his arms and legs, and he was beaten repeatedly with a baton in the ribs.
“I was strictly there to to film and document that night because it’s a part of history. Instead we were kettled, beat, and arrested– there was nowhere to turn, and you couldn’t call the police because they were the ones doing it to you,” said Demetrius Thomas, a plaintiff in one of the suits. “My cameras are my everything, and the night of the kettle my equipment was damaged and taken from me. As a result, I lost several job opportunities, couldn’t keep up with house payments, and I had to ask my mother if I could stay with her while I get on my feet.”
Brian Baude, a lieutenant colonel in the National Guard, was fully compliant and offered to assist police officers, was unlawfully pepper sprayed, assaulted, and arrested by the SLMPD. His relationship with law enforcement prior to this incident was characterized by trust, admiration and respect. As a result of the SLMPD’s officers’ actions, he now fears exercising his First Amendment rights.
St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department has a pattern and practice of indiscriminately using illegal chemical munitions, such as tear gas and pepper spray, without warning. In 2014, ArchCity Defenders filed a temporary restraining order on behalf of protesters against SLMPD for unlawful use of chemical agents.
On November 15, 2017, a U.S. District Judge issued an order that reiterates the Constitutional prohibition of the use of pepper spray, mace, and other chemical agents against “expressive, non-violent activity.” She specified that the “kettle” by the SLMPD was likely unconstitutional.
Since 2014, ArchCity has represented numerous protesters from the Movement that grew out of Ferguson, and has brought many civil rights lawsuits challenging malicious prosecution and police misconduct. Khazaeli Wyrsch is a civil rights and immigration law firm that has successfully represented citizens whose Constitutional rights have been violated by the government.
A link to the lawsuits is forthcoming.
Z. Gorley, Communications Director at ArchCity Defenders