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Federal lawsuit filed over 2017 St. Louis protest arrests

A federal lawsuit alleges that St. Louis police officers mistreated scores of protesters in a police “kettle” during a demonstration two years ago.

The suit was filed this week against the city and 343 officers and officials, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. It is seeking class-action status over the tactic known as “kettling,” in which officers form lines and encircle crowds deemed unruly. The suit contends the method in some cases resulted in improper arrests.

The procedure resulted in 123 arrests on Sept. 17, 2017, amid protests over the acquittal of Jason Stockley, a white former St. Louis officer who had been accused of fatally shooting a black suspect.

The lawsuit also claims that officers violated the constitutional rights of those who were arrested, and violated a 2015 consent decree that said police couldn’t use chemical agents without warning.

City officials said they haven’t seen the suit and declined comment. It’s one of at least three lawsuits filed this week, just before the statute of limitations deadline. A former substitute teacher and undercover detective also sued. Previously, more than a dozen other lawsuits were filed over the arrests.

The kettling lawsuit was filed on behalf of St. Louis residents Fudail McCain and Nicole Warrington, St. Louis County residents Alicia Street and Ronald Harris, and St. Charles County resident Ashley Theis.

Those arrested have contended that police orders were inaudible and vague, and that they were pepper-sprayed and beaten while complying.

The lawsuit said the kettling process resulted in arrests of protesters but also “residents who merely lived in the area, people visiting businesses in the area, reporters, documentarians, a homeless person, and an even an undercover SLMPD officer.”

Police said at the time they needed to clear the downtown streets where the protest occurred, and that those protesting against police were treated no differently than any others.

A separate lawsuit filed by former St. Louis County substitute teacher Laura Jones, filed Monday, claims she was pepper-sprayed while trying to hear police instructions and was knocked to the ground by police riot shields. The pepper spray triggered an asthma attack, and police would not hand over her inhaler, the suit says.

Jones’ lawsuit said she waited for officers to transport her to a police station; was held in a police station cell 5½ hours; and spent 11 more hours in jail. The incident left her with PTSD, anxiety and depression and caused her to lose her teaching job when she had a panic attack in class, the suit claims.

“She’s still very traumatized by this,” said Javad Khazaeli, one of the lawyers who filed the suit.

The other suit this week was filed by Luther Hall, who claimed he was violently beaten by police colleagues who didn’t recognize that Hall was a police officer working undercover during the Sept. 17, 2017, protest.

Hall’s lawsuit says he was slammed to the ground, kicked and beaten. It mirrors allegations made by federal prosecutors in the December indictment of four police officers. One officer pleaded guilty earlier this month to lying to the FBI. The other three, accused of attacking Hall, have pleaded not guilty.

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