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Thousands of people jailed or fined in Normandy eligible for compensation

police car lights
Jason Rojas
Thousands of people whom Normandy police fined, jailed or filed warrants against may be entitled to money from a $1.3 million class-action settlement.

Over 22,000 people in the St. Louis region are eligible to receive money from a $1.3 million class-action settlement that ArchCity Defenders has reached with the City of Normandy.

The civil rights organization sued the city in 2018, claiming that the Normandy police department and court violated residents’ constitutional rights from Sept. 10, 2013, to May 12, 2021.

The lawsuit claimed the Normandy municipal judge or police did not inform the four plaintiffs of their right to an attorney, ask about their ability to pay bond amounts or fees, or provide alternatives to paying fines.

Normandy police ticketed large numbers of people during that time, and the city used the court and police department to bring in revenue for years, said Jack Waldron, managing attorney of civil litigation at ArchCity Defenders.

“This class action that got settled … it’s not offering compensation for specific harms, but more the fact that they, like everybody else, was jailed by Normandy, only because they were too poor to afford their fines,” Waldron said. “If they had money, they would have been able to pay it and they would have been able to get released.”

People whom police jailed in Normandy can receive up to $675 for three days in jail. Those who were fined by Normandy courts can receive up to $60, and those who had a warrant issued against them by the city can receive up to $20.

Normandy police largely issued tickets, fees and warrants to Black drivers, a practice Waldron said is common in St. Louis County municipalities.

According to the Missouri attorney general’s 2021 traffic stop report, Missouri police were 68% more likely to pull over Black drivers than white drivers.

Normandy police issued tickets for traffic violations to some drivers, and police arrested and jailed others over warrants they received in Normandy or other municipalities. Many of those jailed by Normandy police were sent to holding cells in St. Ann. Police sent those who received tickets in other counties to each city’s jail until they paid their fines.

Waldron said jailing poor people who have debts keeps money flowing to municipal governments. According to the lawsuit, Normandy received over $6 million in revenue from the municipal court.

Among those who will receive money from the settlement is Umi Okoli. Normandy police pulled over Okoli a few years ago, and a police officer said she ran a stop sign. Police issued Okoli a ticket and arrested her for failure to pay and failure to appear in court in several other county municipalities.

Okoli, one of four plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said that while working as a teacher she couldn’t afford to pay her tickets or fines. The arrest led to her losing her job and driver’s license and also affected her social life.

She hopes the settlement will hold Normandy's police officers and court system accountable for the hurt and harm caused her and other claimants.

“I want practices to change,” Okoli said. “I want municipalities to find a different way to get tax money for their police officers.”

For information on who qualifies to receive money from the settlement, visit the Normandy Class Action website. The deadline to file a claim is Aug. 26.

Follow Andrea on Twitter: @drebjournalist

Andrea covers race, identity & culture at St. Louis Public Radio.