Judge puts limits on police use of tear gas to disperse Missouri protesters
A federal judge on Thursday ordered St. Louis area police to issue warnings and give crowds reasonable time disperse before firing tear gas, following complaints by activists over heavy-handed police tactics during ongoing race-related protests.
The protests erupted in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson in August after white Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown, an African-American who was unarmed.
U.S. District Judge Carol Jackson delivered the ruling after hearing arguments in a lawsuit filed by a group of protesters against local and state police officials in Missouri.
In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs said children and elderly people were within the crowds when police launched tear gas without warning, boxed in demonstrators making it hard for them to leave the area, and failed to wear visible identification.
The judge did not grant all of the conditions sought by protesters, including one seeking an order that tear gas be used only as a “last resort to prevent significant threats to public safety.”
The complaint filed Monday names as defendants St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar, and Missouri Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson.
Police officials did not respond to requests for comment.
The six plaintiffs include a coffeehouse owner; two co-founders of an area activist organization; a legal observer; a professor from Saint Louis University; and a college student.
“This was a victory today,” said lawyer Brendan Roediger, who is helping represent the plaintiffs. “At its core it accomplishes what we were asking for.”
Brown’s Aug. 9 death, and the lack of charges against Wilson, have prompted expanding protests over what activists say is deeply ingrained hostile treatment of African Americans by police, and an unequal justice system that does not hold police accountable.
Protests have spread to many major U.S. cities, and accelerated after a grand jury in Staten Island decided not to indict a white police officer there in the death of a 43-year-old black man suspected of illegally selling cigarettes.
(Reporting by Carey Gillam in Kansas City, Mo.; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)