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Tuesday, July 23, 2024 | Back issues
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Judge Dismisses Ferguson Protester Lawsuit

ST. LOUIS (CN) — A federal judge dismissed the lawsuits of Ferguson protesters who claimed police used excessive force and violated their civil rights during the upheaval following the shooting death of Michael Brown in August 2014.

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Henry Autrey granted the summary judgment motions filed by Ferguson, St. Louis County, police and police officials.

Plaintiffs' attorneys filed a notice of appeal on Monday.

In granting the summary judgment, Autrey found that the plaintiffs failed to present in credible evidence that the police officers' actions were made out of malice or bad faith.

"The record is clear that at the time of the events detailed herein, the atmosphere surrounding the arrests was extremely intense and had turned violent," Autrey wrote in a detailed 74-page order. "Participants in what had turned from a peaceful assembly to unlawful assembly were advised to disperse. Numerous warnings had been announced to the crowds to do so. These defendants were advised by their superiors to arrest anyone who refused to disperse in accordance with the warnings. Even after the announcement of the orders to disperse, the individual defendants gave repeated warnings to Plaintiffs that they must leave the area. When Plaintiffs failed to do so, these individual defendants were compelled to follow the orders given to make arrests because an unlawful assembly/riot was occurring."

Autrey found that the officers were entitled to official and qualified immunity as were their supervisors.

Autrey's ruling also made note of numerous inconsistencies in the plaintiffs' accounts versus what video surveillance and other evidence actually showed.

For example, Tracey White claimed she and her 17-year-old son were arrested inside the Ferguson McDonald's after officers with rifles suddenly rushed the building. She said officers threw her to the ground after she protested the treatment of her son, who she claimed was arrested when she tried to give him the iPad she was carrying.

But video showed neither White nor her son was arrested inside the McDonald's, instead it happened a block or two away while police were trying to push protesters back after a truck became stuck amid the protest.

"When White viewed the video of her arrest during her deposition, she admitted that the video showed the truck that was stuck, it showed her, and it showed an officer placing hand ties on her," Autrey wrote. "She agreed that video showed an officer placing hand ties on her, and that she was not on the ground, and that there was no knee in her back.

"The footage from the video shows White's son walking by holding an iPad in his hand, and so she agrees that the officer may have handed the iPad to her son. White viewed footage showing where her son is walking, and that he was holding a soda and ice cream that were still in his hands. She agrees that when her son was walking by with the soda, ice cream sundae, and iPad in his hands, he was not handcuffed and he was not yet arrested."

Autrey also noted that White was not truthful under oath about previous court actions against her, including nonpayment for a credit card, failure to disclose a 2014 order of protection against her and a 2008 charge for resisting arrest that was eventually dismissed.

Autrey also found plaintiff Dwayne A. Matthews Jr. contradicted himself on the extent of his injuries.

"Although Matthews claims he was subjected to a 'gruesome' beating by 5 or 6 officers, his own statements belie his position," Autrey wrote. "He told the paramedics that he was told to evacuate, he did not; he was shot with rubber bullets and tear gas after he did not heed the orders. Matthews told hospital personnel that he did not lose consciousness, even though he claims he did. The X Rays and CT scans that were taken were normal. He was released from the emergency room and was not admitted to the hospital. He had no follow up care."

Autrey found other plaintiffs also made contradictory statements and that plaintiffs could not identify individual officers.

The lawsuit was originally filed on Aug. 28, 2014 and was later amended to add more plaintiffs from protests in October 2014. The plaintiffs sought $41.5 million.

Hundreds of arrests were made after protests turned violent in the aftermath of Brown's shooting. Brown, an unarmed black man, was shot on Aug. 9, 2014 by then Ferguson police office Darren Wilson, who is white.

Gregory Lattimer, one of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs, believes the case should be decided by a jury.

"It's unfortunate that the Constitution has such a rough time in Missouri, but I think that the court of appeals will look at this and make a determination that. . . the judge's refusal to allow these cases to go forward was not consistent with applicable law," Lattimer told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in a telephone interview Monday.

He characterized the discrepancies in White's claims as a mix-up and questioned Autrey's finding that his clients couldn't identify the officers, because many wore masks and did not wear badges, according to the Post-Dispatch.

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