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Stockley protesters sue St. Louis, claim civil rights violations during mass arrest

A St. Louis police officer looks out at protesters outside of police headquarters Sunday night, Sept. 17, 2017.
File photo | Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio
A St. Louis police officer watches protesters outside police headquarters on Sept. 17, 2017. A local nonprofit law firm has sued the department over its mass arrest later that night.

More than a dozen people who were arrested protesting the Jason Stockley verdict filed suit Monday against the City of St. Louis saying police tactics violated their civil rights.

The nonprofit law firm ArchCity Defenders filed the 12 federal lawsuits on the anniversary of the mass arrests near Washington Avenue downtown. The individuals arrested included protesters, observers, an undercover police officer and members of the media.

Activists had been on the streets for two days on Sept. 17, 2017, after a judge found Stockley — a former St. Louis police officer — not guilty of murder in the 2011 shooting death of Anthony Lamar Smith. Stockley, who is white, shot and killed Smith, a 24-year-old black man, after a car chase.

Around 8 that night, a group of individuals broke windows and caused other damage along Washington Avenue. Police said they issued orders for everyone else to disperse, but the defendants claim they never heard the orders to leave.

One year ago, today: Stockley protests, Day 3 — More than 80 arrested after weekend of mostly peaceful demonstrations

Officers then began to close streets around the intersection of Tucker Boulevard and Washington. Around 11 p.m., the suits said, officers with shields and batons began forming lines to block anyone from leaving that intersection — a tactic known as “kettling.” Even though everyone in the kettle area surrendered, the suits said, police began to indiscriminately spray chemical agents like pepper spray and violently arrest those trapped inside.

The suits allege the city violated the civil rights of peaceful protesters and observers in a variety of ways, including not giving them a chance to disperse and using chemical agents in violation of earlier court settlements. None of the defendants had anything to do with the earlier vandalism, according to the lawsuits.

ArchCity attorneys are asking for compensatory and punitive damages, to “punish Defendants and to deter them, as well as other similarly situated individuals, from engaging in similar conduct in the future.”

A spokesman for Mayor Lyda Krewson said her office had not yet seen the suits and could not comment. The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The ArchCity suits are the latest court cases filed over the way the police handled the Stockley protests. In one case, filed by the ACLU of Missouri, a judge ordered the city to immediately change the way it handles policing at protests.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.