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St. Louis will pay millions to protesters ‘kettled’ in 2017. Will it make a difference?

Police dressed in riot gear gathered on Tucker Boulevard on Sept. 15, the day Jason Stockley was acquitted of first-degree murder in the 2011 death of Anthony Lamar Smith.
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
Police dressed in riot gear on Sept. 15, the day Jason Stockley was acquitted of first-degree murder in the 2011 death of Anthony Lamar Smith. Police actions that weekend have led St. Louis to pay out millions in settlements.

The events of September 17, 2017, were expensive for the City of St. Louis. In the years since police used a “kettle” to mass-arrest dozens of people downtown, the city has settled with protesters and bystanders caught in the cordon.

Now, with the $4.9 million settlement reached this week in a class-action lawsuit, the bill has hit a total of roughly $10 million. According to the proposed class-action settlement, the city would pay about $58,500 per person to 84 people.

The actions of police that night crossed a legal line, said attorney Bill Freivogel. He noted that the arrests included “residents who were just walking by and got caught up” in the closing line of police officers.

The large payout clashes with a prediction offered in 2018 by City Counselor Julian Bush, who said at the time: "People have brought claims, but these people were only kept in custody a day. We are not anticipating large payouts."

Jennifer Joyce, an attorney and St. Louis’ circuit attorney from 2001 to 2017, said she couldn’t comment on the city counselor’s approach to the case, but she noted how, on the same night, police officers beat undercover detective Luther Hall. That beating led to criminal charges against some of the officers involved and a $5 million civil settlement. Hall was seriously injured in the attack.

Joyce said the incidents are contributing to staffing shortages as departments struggle to train and retain good officers.

“People are not flocking to this job as they did in the past,” she said. “That's very troubling, because I don't know how we change the culture in policing, not just in St. Louis, but everywhere, without having good people wanting that job.”

Reacting to the settlement, attorney Eric Banks said: “I'm in favor of it. And I think that the only way to get the city fathers and mothers to address this very serious problem of police brutality is to hit them where it hurts — the pocketbook.”

The Legal Roundtable also discussed a reprieve for Geico and a bill in the Missouri legislature that proposes bringing in a special prosecutor to handle crime in St. Louis — directly challenging the power of the elected circuit attorney. To hear more from attorneys Bill Freivogel, Eric Banks and Jennifer Joyce, listen to the full St. Louis on the Air conversation on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcast, Stitcher, or by clicking the play button below.

Listen: January 2023 Legal Roundtable

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski and Alex Heuer. Avery Rogers is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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