The police overreaction to the Ferguson protesters in the wake of Michael Brown’s killing will now possibly be adjudicated in a federal courtroom, as six protesters have filed a $40 million lawsuit against the city of Ferguson and St. Louis County, in addition to their police departments.
The suit was announced yesterday on the steps of the federal courthouse in downtown St. Louis by the plaintiffs and their lawyers. The residents claim that the police intentionally, negligently and/or recklessly caused them to be subjected to unnecessary force, arrests not based on probable cause, and other violations of their constitutional rights. The plaintiffs seek compensatory and punitive damages totaling $40 million.
The 30-page suit includes anecdotes from the plaintiffs detailing how they were abused by the police department during the days of unrest that followed the Aug. 9 killing of the unarmed Brown by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. A grand jury is currently considering whether to file charges against Wilson, while the U.S. Justice Department is conducting its own investigation to determine whether Wilson violated Brown’s civil rights when he killed him because he was upset that the 18-year-old was walking in the street instead of the sidewalk.
The lawsuit was posted online by the Los Angeles Times. It gives a detailed look into the behavior of police officers who appear to be undisciplined and exhibiting behavior far beyond the bounds of acceptable police conduct.
“A public outcry about the shooting death of Michael Brown by Officer Wilson turned into protests, which subsequently turned into civil unrest in the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, when defendants took up arms and, in militaristic displays of force and weaponry, engaged U.S. citizens as if they were war combatants,” the suit alleges.
In the suit, plaintiff Tracey White and her 13-year-old son allege that their rights were violated when, after attending a Peace and Love rally sponsored by their church, they were accosted and arrested at a McDonald’s where they were eating and peacefully talking to other people in the restaurant. White alleges that officers dressed in what looked like military gear stormed into the McDonald’s and ordered everyone to “get out.” But her son had just gone to the restroom, so she tried to explain that she wanted to wait for him to come out and that they were waiting for her husband to pick them up.
At that point, White says the officer threw her to the ground and handcuffed her because she would not “shut up.” As she was being arrested, her son came out of the bathroom. When she asked him to take the iPad out of her hands, an officer named Justin Cosma, named as a defendant, arrested her son as well. Because he’s a minor, he was not identified. The mother and son were fingerprinted at the police station and held for more than 5 hours on the unfounded charge of “failure to disperse.”
The suit includes the story of Dewayne Matthews Jr., who alleges that when he was standing with his hands in the air, in surrender mode, police in riot gear riddled him with rubber bullets, slammed him into the concrete, pushing his head underwater in a sewer, and sprayed him with some sort of chemical. Matthews says he wasn’t even participating in the protests—he was on the way to his mother’s house to make sure she was OK.
Plaintiff Kerry White says he was arrested by police who took his memory card and threw it on the ground while he was attempting to photograph the protests.
Plaintiffs Damon Coleman and Theophilus Green claim the police shouted racial slurs at them while punching and kicking them—this is after officers hit them with rubber bullets. They were arrested and held for more than 12 hours.
An hour after the lawsuit was announced, embattled Missouri Governor Jay Nixon and state Treasurer Clint Zweifel announced that they were starting a $100 million small business relief program for Ferguson and area businesses impacted by the unrest, helping them rebuild and replace lost inventory, rent and utilities.