Rights activists in St Louis sued the Midwestern US city Friday over the police response to unrest sparked by the acquittal of a white officer in the death of a black suspect.
The lawsuit, brought on behalf of two protesters by the American Civil Liberties Union, accused police of misconduct during three days of public mayhem last weekend, as protesters broke windows, clashed with officers in riot gear, and vandalized the mayor’s home.
The civil rights group accused police of illegal arrests, improper use of chemical-based weapons such as pepper spray, and of interfering with people video recording officers’ activities.
“While long shifts and being the subject of the protest is understandably challenging for police, that is no excuse for violating the Constitution,” the ACLU’s Tony Rothert said in a statement.
The demonstrations were prompted by the acquittal last Friday of a former police officer, Jason Stockley, who shot and killed Anthony Lamar Smith following a 2011 car chase. Smith was suspected of drug dealing.
Prosecutors alleged Stockley had planned to kill Smith and planted a gun in his vehicle to justify his actions. But a judge sided with Stockley, who maintains his innocence, saying there was not enough evidence to convict.
Police responded with force to the ensuing protests, and demonstrators complained that police at times arrested innocent bystanders and used pepper spray at will, even when not threatened.
Amid heightening criticism this week, Mayor Lyda Krewson canceled scheduled public meetings and promised abuse claims would be investigated.
“Intimidation is not conduct that lives up to the standard of behavior expected by City police officers or any City employee,” Krewson said in a statement Tuesday.