ST. LOUIS (CN) – A federal judge on Tuesday certified a class of protesters who claim their civil rights were violated by St. Louis police in the aftermath of a white officer’s acquittal on a first-degree murder charge for killing a black motorist.
Jason Stockley, a former St. Louis police officer, was found not guilty in September 2017 for the murder of Anthony Lamar Smith.
Stockley shot Smith, a suspected drug dealer, in 2011 after a high-speed chase through residential neighborhoods. During the pursuit, according to a probable cause statement, Stockley was heard saying, “going to kill this motherfucker, don’t you know it,” about 45 seconds before the fatal shots were fired.
The acquittal sparked numerous, sometimes violent, protests.
The American Civil Liberties Union, on behalf of a group of Stockley protesters, filed a lawsuit a week after the verdict, claiming police violated their constitutional rights by using chemical weapons, beating them and interfering with the videotaping of police activity.
Three indicted officers face federal civil rights charges for beating an undercover detective they mistook for a protester. The plaintiffs claim these officers expressed widespread enthusiasm for using force against protesters and acknowledged the routine destruction of protesters’ cameras and cellphones during the demonstrations.
On Tuesday, Senior U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry granted the plaintiffs class certification after finding they met numerosity, commonality, typicality and adequacy standards in their claims against the city of St. Louis.
“Defendant argues that class certification is inappropriate because it may have a preclusive effect in other pending actions for damages arising out of the protests at issue here,” Perry wrote in a 17-page order. “This argument cannot defeat class certification as such a ruling is not one on the merits and therefore has no preclusive effect. Any concerns regarding the preclusive effect that a final judgment in this case might have on other, later-filed cases is appropriately raised in those cases and is not an issue properly before this court.”
Perry’s decision is yet another setback for police in the Eastern District of Missouri. In November 2017, she ruled that police cannot declare an unlawful assembly and use chemical agents against those “engaged in expressive activity, unless the persons are acting in concert to pose an imminent threat to use force or violence or to violate a criminal law with force or violence.”
The St. Louis Police Department did not immediately return an email requesting comment Wednesday.
The named plaintiffs are Maleeha Ahmad, W. Patrick Mobley and Pamela Lewczuk.
Ahmad participated in the protests and says she was sprayed with mace.
Mobley allegedly had his cellphone illegally seized and searched when he was caught filming an arrest during the protests. He claims police deleted the video without his consent, threatened to manufacture evidence to arrest him, and accused him of property damage before telling him to leave or face arrest.
Lewczuk is a legal observer who says she was exposed to chemical agents by police on several occasions while observing the protests. She was also detained during a mass arrest on the evening of Sept. 17, 2017, in a controversial police technique called “kettling.”