ACLU calls St. Louis police’s actions “unconstitutional” in lawsuit

ST. LOUIS — The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri filed a lawsuit against the city of St. Louis on Friday over what it called “unlawful and unconstitutional action” during demonstrations that followed the acquittal of a white former police officer in the death of a black man. 

The suit accuses police of misconduct by using chemical weapons, interfering with video of police activity and violating due process. It seeks an order requiring police to act within the bounds of the U.S. Constitution.

Koran Addo, a spokesman for Mayor Lyda Krewson, declined comment, saying the mayor’s office has not seen the lawsuit, which was filed in St. Louis Circuit Court.

More than 160 people have been arrested since demonstrations began Sept. 15 after a judge found Jason Stockley not guilty of first-degree murder in the 2011 death of Anthony Lamar Smith. Most of those arrests were on the night of the ruling and Sunday.

During some of the protests, several businesses’ windows have been broken and items have been thrown at police. Police at times have used tear gas and pepper spray on protesters.

Some bystanders and at least one journalist were caught up in the arrests, especially on Sunday night, when more than 120 people were arrested in downtown St. Louis – all but three of them for “failure to disperse.” Those arrests came after police used a process known as “kettling” to box in demonstrators and others. 

“While long shifts and being the subject of the protest is understandably challenging for police, that is no excuse for violating the Constitution,” Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri, told CBS affiliate KMOV

Police said people were arrested only if they lingered after being ordered to disperse, but some people said they were unable to leave because police had boxed them in. Among them was Mike Faulk, a journalist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The newspaper has demanded that charges be dropped. Neither Faulk nor the newspaper is part of the ACLU’s lawsuit.

The ACLU filed the suit on behalf of two women who took part in protests. One, Maleeha Ahmed, who was sprayed in the face with pepper spray on Sept. 15, said she was protesting for justice and peace when police confronted her.

“If it hadn’t been for my fellow peaceful protesters – strangers who came to my aid – I don’t know how my eyesight would be today,” Ahmed said. “I would have been left out in the sun, on the ground, with my face burning.”

Also Friday, St. Louis aldermen…

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