ACLU Applauds Police Apology to Protesters

Affiliate: ACLU of Missouri
August 24, 2009 12:00 am

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ST. LOUIS — In settlement of an ACLU of Eastern Missouri lawsuit, the St. Louis Board of Police Commissioners has agreed to pay damages and send a letter of apology to four activists. St. Louis police officers violated their first and fourth amendment rights to prevent them from participating in protests at the World Agricultural Forum (“WAF”) in St. Louis in May 2003.

Acting under a written plan to preemptively root out individuals fitting a loose profile the Police Department described as “anarchists,” St Louis City Police Officers at one location made a warrantless entry into a house occupied by several activists, arrested and handcuffed each of them for the crime of “occupying a condemned building,” and subjected one woman to an unlawful and humiliating strip search. At a second location, the police made a warrantless entry and search under the guise of a previous building inspection revealing serious housing violations. The document that allegedly showed the results of the inspection was, by a later admission of the officer who signed it, false and no building violations were discovered. The Plaintiff who owned the building had property damaged during the search and was forced to miss the event he planned to lawfully protest. In addition, a group of activists riding their bicycles to the protest were arrested, handcuffed, booked and jailed for the crime of “riding a bicycle without a license.” Knowing that it was not unlawful to ride a bicycle without a license, a Police Supervisor later changed the charge to “obstructing the flow of traffic while riding a bicycle.” The charges were never prosecuted. The bicyclists were unable to attend the protest because of their unlawful arrests.

An important part of this settlement is a letter of apology from the Police Department to the young activists. In the letter, the Board writes that the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department “sincerely regrets the grievances of plaintiffs arising from the Department’s response…” and acknowledges that the “infringement of civil liberties of the citizenry was not warranted…”

ACLU-EM Executive Director Brenda Jones said “We are appreciative of the police department’s letter and congratulate Chief Isom on his leadership in resolving this matter.”

“This case supports an important and fundamental principle,” said Gary Sarachan, of the Clayton firm Capes, Sokol, Goodman & Sarachan, PC, who served as an ACLU cooperating attorney on the case. “There is no justification, legal or otherwise, to arrest innocent persons simply because they fit some profile.”

“It is a serious miscarriage of justice when those we rely on to enforce the law are the very ones who violate it,” said ACLU-EM Legal Director Anthony Rothert.

Sheila Greenbaum, another Capes, Sokol, Goodman & Sarachan attorney who represented the activists said, “This is an ACLU victory for the First and Fourth Amendments of the Constitution as well as for our clients, young individuals who wanted to peacefully protest in the city of Saint Louis, Missouri. We believe this outcome will restore their faith in our system of justice.”

The case is Appel, et al. v. City of St. Louis, et al. Other attorneys representing the activists include Rory Ellinger, of the O’Fallon firm of Ellinger & Associates, P.C., William Quick, of the Law Offices of William T. Quick in St. Louis.

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