St. Louis Police Are Now Under Federal Investigation for Violating Protesters’ Civil Rights

This week, the FBI and the Justice Department opened investigations into the conduct of St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department officers for unconstitutional actions during protests in September. The federal investigation is just the latest in a string of actions by courts and community leaders to hold the St. Louis police accountable for its systemic abuses of power.

The federal investigation centers on allegations of civil rights violations by law enforcement officers when the community expressed its outrage, pain, and grief in protests after the September acquittal of police officer Jason Stockley in the killing of Anthony Lamar Smith. Police pepper-sprayed protesters and bystanders without warning, even spraying some people in the face when they were sitting on the ground with their hands zip-tied. Officers interfered with people recording police activities in photos and on video. Police also unlawfully detained people during a kettling incident in downtown St. Louis.

The ACLU of Missouri sued the city for this police misconduct. In our suit, we asked for the court to protect the people whose rights were violated and whose rights could be violated again. It took three days of testimony and 18 witnesses to tell the stories of what hundreds of people at protests experienced on the streets of St. Louis: systemic constitutional violations and retaliatory actions by police officers.

In a win for the people of St. Louis and for the First Amendment, a federal judge granted our preliminary injunction on Nov. 15, requiring police to immediately adopt protocols to prevent mass deprivation of people’s constitutional rights. Under the protocols, the city of St. Louis cannot declare an “unlawful assembly” unless there is an imminent threat of violence. It also cannot declare an “unlawful assembly” for the purpose of punishing people for exercising their First Amendment rights. And police may not use chemical agents against nonviolent protestors in the absence of probable cause for an arrest or use chemical agents to disperse protestors or as punishment for protesting.

This is a win for the constitutional rights of the people of St. Louis, particularly communities of color. St. Louis is one of the nation’s most racially segregated cities, where ZIP codes separated by only a few miles can mean an 18-year difference in life expectancy. The city’s residents also confront the deadliest police force in the United States. St. Louis police kill people at a higher rate than any police department among the nation’s 100 most populous cities, according to data gathered from January 2013 to June 2017.

In an unusual move for this stage of the case, after issuing her preliminary ruling the judge also ordered the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department and the ACLU to mediation — so that the case potentially can get resolved quickly without going to trial. While it’s important that the federal government investigates these systemic violations of civil rights, the city of St. Louis should now work with the community to develop a collaborative policing model that protects constitutional rights and promotes public safety. We believe the court saw a need — and opportunity — for real change through collaboration.

The St. Louis police department doesn’t need to look far for a model of how to change its culture of policing. The U.S. Department of Justice’s consent decree with the nearby Ferguson Police Department provided many common-sense solutions for police interactions with protestors and the community after the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown. Much of what the judge granted in our preliminary injunction came from this well-thought-out model.

There are community-wide reform efforts as well. The Ferguson Commission, a group of leaders tasked by the Missouri governor to study the reasons for the systemic inequalities in the St. Louis region, also outlined recommendations for collaborative policing and criminal justice reform in its report that the St. Louis police should implement.

Local elected leaders have the opportunity to take up the fight for police reform, too. The St. Louis Board of Aldermen can protect the Constitution by passing Board Bill 134. The bill establishes First Amendment protections for the city of St. Louis. Modeled after a 12-year-old ordinance in Washington, D.C., it sets clear guidelines for police conduct during protests. Similar solutions proposed in the bill are also in the 2016 consent decree between the U.S. Department of Justice and the Ferguson Police Department.

The messages from the community, the courts, and now the federal government couldn’t be any clearer: It’s time for St. Louis police to radically alter its culture and practice constitutional policing.

Add a comment (16)
Read the Terms of Use

Dr. Joseph Goebbels

"It's monkey slapping time.": Arnold Schwartznegger circa 2003.

Anonymous

Once my police department received a 911 call from what sounded like San electronic voice. It reported a speeder on the 95 turnpike. As we traced the call, we found the signal originated from a satellite that was connected/using a land line from Oak Ridge Tenn. Once we put 1+1 together we determined the Titan Computer connected with a USAF sattalite running experimental tracking missions. The satallite in collusion with the Titian computer were tracking every vehicle in a 500 square mile area using thermal and gps. Every vehicle was tracked from start for location, speed, distance travelled, gps etc.

I wonder who programmed it to call the police when they found a speeder, and how the system then geolocated the nearest DOT camera to get a plate, then reference the zip code to call the local LEO. Hmmmm.

Anonymous

Oh..the irony, in one piece the ACLU (or their guest writers) is criticizing Department of Justice for apparently rolling back the civil rights initiatives and reforms that Obama instituted on the DOJ during his term, yet the very same DOJ which is supposedly going backwards is investigating the St Louis PD.

I find it funny that the ACLU (or their guest writers) is criticizing the DOJ, yet they seem to support the investigation of a local police department and the consent decree by an equally questionable DOJ. It looks like the ACLU likes to have it both ways and can only look to the DOJ to do something when local police departments go wild.

What are you sm...

The ACLU can not support the rollbacks of the laws and still support their handling of a specific case.

If the police decide they are going to do stop and frisks and you are opposed to it, do you stop calling the police for crimes?

ACLU will use them and sue them if necessary. You're seriously upset that the ACLU expects them to do their job.

Anonymous

<>
Stop and frisk by the police? Dude, that's an occurrence with my encounters with the Policía Municipal (and was it the Policía Estatal Preventiva ?). I can't catch a break with these guys. Always the stop and frisk and rummaging through my car. I may not have a choice but to call these guys even though I get stopped and frisked, I mean it's not like I can legally own firearms where I am. I'm not upset that ALCU is expecting them to do their job, I'm laughing that the equally questionable DOJ is investigating an equally questionable local police department. Maybe we are all better off without the DOJ getting involved. ..

Secondly, I don't smoke anything...it's bad for my health..

Anonymous

The DOJ has a multitude of divisions. It seems like the Civil Rights Division has the most integrity - if not defunded and micro-managed by politicians. The so-called National Security divisions seem to be the most dangerous to innocent Americans. Maybe the Civil Rights Division could arrest the other DOJ divisions committing federal crimes?

Anonymous

Until the DOJ stops funding state Fusion Centers and totally denounces Cointelpro tactics - they have no integrity to go after local and state officials doing the same things they promote and sponsor.

Anonymous

So the organization (City of St. Louis) is punished, after a fashion, but the individual offenders (police) are not? I think any person who willfully deprives anyone of their constitutional rights should be denied the opportunity to do it again. It would weed out the bad apples and the sick culture pretty quickly.

merrychristmas2018

https://merrychristmas-happynewyear.org/
Popular Christmas carol We Wish You a Merry Christmas beautifully sung by top talented children's choir ...

Pages

Stay Informed