September 17, 2020
Three years ago, over one hundred people were kettled, beaten, and pepper sprayed by the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department (SLMPD) and neither St. Louis City nor SLMPD have done anything to account for the indelible harms caused by their abusive actions.
On September 15, 2017, former SLMPD officer, Jason Stockley, was acquitted for the killing of Anthony Lamar Smith, and St. Louisans took to the streets, protesting racial injustice, state-sanctioned violence, and yet another example of police impunity. In the days that followed the “Stockley verdict,” protests began, and SLMPD ratcheted up their use of militarized and aggressive tactics. On September 17, 2017, SLMPD used a controversial, dangerous, and illegal tactic known as “kettling” when they decided to arrest everyone in the vicinity regardless of whether they had been at any protests. Included in their arrests were members of the military who lived in the neighborhood, members of the media, and at least one unhoused individual.
A year later on September 17, 2018, ArchCity Defenders (ACD) filed twelve individual lawsuits on their behalf with Khazaeli Wyrsch (KW), and a lawsuit on behalf of journalist Michael Faulk with the law firm Nelson & Nelson. Later, KW filed a class action on behalf of over 100 people kettled that night and 11 other lawsuits on behalf of 11 people who were victims of SLMPD’s kettling and mass-arrest practices surrounding the Stockley verdict, and those cases are still pending.
Since then, St. Louis City has failed the people they harmed as well as the broader community in the following ways:
- Neither the City nor SLMPD has properly investigated officers’ conduct the night of the kettling.
- Many officers remain unidentified and unaccountable because the SLMPD barely documented their tactics or actions that weekend, hundreds of officers covered in riot gear were used to arrest a small number of civilians, and some officers covered their name badges and faces before perpetrating abuses during the kettle.
- St. Louis City has resisted and refused efforts to identify all of the specific officers who inflicted harm on civilians during that night.
- Despite five SLMPD officers federally indicted and three of them pleading guilty for their roles in abusing an undercover officer the night of the kettle, no other officer has been written up, indicted, and/or disciplined in any way for their actions directed at protesters and bystanders. Dozens of Internal Affairs Division (IAD) and Civilian Oversight Board (COB) complaints have sat uninvestigated for three years.
- St. Louis City has refused to change the ordinances used against protestors.
Much of this is despite the fact that a SLMPD sergeant (at the time of the kettling), later testified under oath, that:
“Things weren’t being run the way that they should have been. They were not in line with our training model in terms of how the arrests were being effected.”
When asked by plaintiffs, “Do you have your thoughts as to why that was?” The officer responded, “The person in charge wasn’t running the operation the way it should have been.”
In the aftermath of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor’s killings, cities across America have reevaluated policing tactics and budgets; however, three years after the kettling, the City of St. Louis continues to resist any policy changes or accountability. Instead of working to prevent abuse and retaliation against peaceful protesters, the City spends its energy defending its actions at all costs.
While the ACLU of Missouri obtained an injunction in 2017 in Ahmad vs. The city of St. Louis, protecting protesters’ constitutional rights, the ACLU is still fighting. On September 23rd, the case will be back in court as the city of St. Louis is appealing the judge’s ruling.
On Monday, ArchCity Defenders published Defund the Police- STL, an illustrated guide which shares quick facts about policing and exorbitant police budgets, urges a reinvestment in basic community resources, and gives examples of scenarios police could be removed from, i.e. homeless outreach, schools, and mental health crises. Click here to view the guide, and follow the conversation on social media with #defundthepoliceSTL.
Z Gorley, Communications Director, ArchCity Defenders