New York Magazine is reporting that six people detained by police during the protests are suing the Ferguson and St. Louis County police departmentsfor $41.5 million, accusing officers of using excessive force, making false arrests and other civil rights violations. The suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, says law enforcement met the tense public outrage over the Aug. 9 killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown with “militaristic displays of force and weaponry,” (and) engaged U.S. citizens “as if they were war combatants.”
The federal lawsuit was filed by Black Lawyers for Justice of Washington, D.C. on Thursday and named defendants as the city of Ferguson, St. Louis County, Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Delmar, Ferguson police officer Justin Cosmo, and other unnamed police officers from Ferguson and St. Louis County.
“The police were completely out of control,” said attorney Malik Shabazz of Black Lawyers for Justice. “In those initial days, it was virtually a police riot.” Journalists were hit with tear gas and rubber bullets as they simply tried to do their jobs. Residents were brutally assaulted for simply trying to make it home.
“This is a blatant example of how police handle African-Americans … how it can go terribly, terribly wrong. You have a right to peaceful assembly,” said attorney Reginald Greene who brought the case.
The extensive lawsuit contains chilling tales of police brutality:
On August 13, Tracey White and her son bought food at McDonald’s after attending a Peace and Love rally hosted by her church. When her 17-year-old son went to the bathroom she returned to the counter to order a sundae, and suddenly two officers in riot gear burst in and ordered her to “get out.” According to the suit, she tried to tell officers her son was in the bathroom and they were waiting for her husband to pick them up. Then she “continued to express her concerns” when the boy emerged from the bathroom and was accosted by officers. She was thrown to the ground and handcuffed, and the officer said she was being arrested because she wouldn’t “shut up.” When she tried to give her son the iPad she was holding, he was arrested too.
Dewayne Matthews Jr. says he was assaulted and arrested while trying to check on his mother, who lives near West Florissant Avenue. The bus let people off early owing to the protests, and as he was walking toward his mother’s house he was confronted by about eight officers with their weapons drawn. He says he immediately put his hands up, and was shot with rubber bullets.
The suit says Matthews “fell into a creek or sewer,” and an officer pounced on him, “slammed his face into the concrete, and pushed his head underwater to the point that he felt he was going to be drowned.” He was then hit with pepper spray and arrested, and spent the night in the hospital being treated for his injuries. At a press conference, Matthews, who has dreadlocks, said the officers also used racial slurs, calling him “coon” and “mop head.”
It’s being reported that on August 14, the day after the events in the suit occurred, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon ordered the Missouri State Highway Patrol to take over control of the Ferguson protests. Meanwhile St. Louis County and the U.S. Justice Department are investigating Michael Brown’s shooting, and a Grand Jury is considering whether to bring charges against the officer Darren Wilson, Brown’s shooter.
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