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$40 Million Lawsuit Filed Against Ferguson, St. Louis County Police

Joseph Leahy

(Updated at 12:40 p.m. Friday, August 29)

Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III and Police Chief Thomas Jackson have issued a joint statement in response to the lawsuit filed Thursday:

“A Federal lawsuit was recently field [sic] by five individuals against the City of Ferguson, and others. On behalf of the City of Ferguson, we sincerely express our regret for any injury sustained by any protester who was peacefully exercising their Constitutional rights. The unfortunate recent events and civil unrest have been challenging for both the public and the police. The Ferguson Police Department does not and did not use tear gas, rubber bullets or stingers in carrying out its law enforcement responsibilities. The City’s response to the allegations in the lawsuit will be made according to the rule of law and the rules of the Federal court.” 

The St. Louis County Police declined to comment on the lawsuit, referring reporters to the St. Louis County Counselor's Office. A call there as well as to St. Louis County's media line have not been returned at this time.

Our previous story:

At least five people are suing the Ferguson and St. Louis County police departments for $40 million, alleging abuse and mistreatment during the civil upheaval in Ferguson this month.

Attorney Malik Shabazz filed the suit in St. Louis U.S. District Court Thursday on behalf of the group Black Lawyers for Justice.

The lawsuit names Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar, Ferguson police officer Justin Cosma, unnamed Ferguson and County police, St. Louis County and the City of Ferguson as defendants.

At a press conference outside the courthouse, Shabazz said the five individuals were “victimized by excessive force and rogue actions” police used during episodes of violence during protests following the police shooting of Michael Brown. The lawsuit seeks damages for false arrest; intentional infliction of emotional distress; negligent supervision; assault and battery; and deprivation of civil rights as well as failure to train, supervise and discipline.

“Not only was Michael Brown abused, not only was he killed and shot unjustly and abused, but we are also here to say others here in the wake of Michael Brown being killed were also abused, which bears witness that there’s serious problems here in the police departments of Ferguson and St. Louis County,” Shabazz said.

Two of the plaintiffs are Tracey White, a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist, and her 17-year-old son, who is identified only as W.D. in the lawsuit because he is a minor. White said the incident happened on Aug. 13. She and her son had attended a march in Ferguson and went to the McDonald’s at Ferguson Avenue and West Florissant Avenue.

“Out of nowhere police dressed in, like, camouflage, wearing helmets, sticks in their hands, some with rifles, approached the door of the McDonald’s and demanded that all of the customers get out,” she said.

White said she told an officer that she wanted to wait for her son, who was in the restroom, but the officer told her she had to leave the premises quickly. She said she was then ushered outside with a small group by officers with guns.

“They ended up arresting me after I kept questioning, ‘Why are you pushing us back here? Why do you all have guns turned on us? Where are you taking us to?’” she said. “It looked like something out of a movie. It was so horrifying. We did nothing wrong.”

White said she was thrown to the ground and her hands were secured with plastic handcuffs. She said her son was arrested when she tried to give him the iPad she was carrying. She said police told her she was being charged with “failure to disperse,” but when she was released, she received no paperwork or court dates. White said she tried to get an answer on whether she’d be charged from St. Louis County, but was told it would be up to a prosecutor.

Another plaintiff DeWayne Anton Matthews, Jr. said he had taken the bus to his mother’s home on South Dellwood Drive in Ferguson. He said police had blocked off Kappel Drive, the usual route he takes, so he continued down West Florissant Avenue toward Highmont Drive. But he said West Florissant Avenue was filled with tear gas. Soon he came across eight officers in what he called “military suits” with assault weapons.

“When I threw my hands up and said, ‘Don’t shoot,’ they fired anyway,” Matthews said. “All I seen was flames. They shot me in my arm and everywhere across my body.”

He said he was bleeding from the rubber bullets and fell in a sewer ditch filled with water.

“As they pulled me out of the water, they slammed me on my face as if they were doing a technique move from the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment),” he said. “As they’re doing this they are calling me, ‘coon,’ ‘n*****’ and ‘mophead.’”

Matthews said police used OC, or pepper, spray and arrested him for allegedly “failing to disperse.” Matthews said police handcuffed him so tightly that he still has no feeling in his left hand. He was detained and later taken to Christian Hospital Northwest.

The lawsuit says Matthews was “savagely beaten.”

“I feel so much hatred from them. I thought my life was very threatened,” Matthews said. “I’m out there by myself with tear gas. I’m telling them I’m not a part of the protests. I’m walking with my hands up. Where is justice in that? Where is the peace?”

The other plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Damon Coleman, Theophilus Green and Kerry White.

“The police were completely out of control. They were not operating by proper policies and procedures, and they used excessive force on a regular and consistent basis,” Shabazz said, adding he wants to hold Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson and St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar “accountable.”

A request for comment from the St. Louis County and Ferguson police departments was not immediately returned.