ST. LOUIS (CN) – A federal judge in St. Louis issued a temporary restraining order Thursday, requiring law enforcement officers to warn protesting crowds before using tear gas.
U.S. District Judge Carol Jackson’s ruling stems from a lawsuit filed Monday by six Ferguson protesters who claim use of tear gas and other heavy-handed police tactics are a form of intimidation and chills their right to free speech.
Jackson’s order requires that police warn crowds of the impending use of tear gas, provide reasonable time for protesters to disperse and to allow crowds means of safe egress.
The order does not define what the court considers reasonable.
Jackson said at a hearing Thursday that she would leave that up to police discretion.
The judge said at the hearing that people may engage in peaceful, nonviolent political speech without being lumped in with criminals.
“There was no distinction drawn in the way peaceful protesters were treated and the way criminals were treated, even though the police do make those distinctions in other situations,” Jackson said.
Jackson, however, rejected the protesters’ request that tear gas be used only as a last resort. She found there was no way to gauge that circumstance.
Judge Jackson will hold a hearing on the request for a preliminary injunction on Jan. 6, 2015.
Plaintiffs on Thursday testified in detail about the policing of the Ferguson protests that began in August. Police officers from St. Louis City and County testified in the hearing that they did what was necessary to control the sometimes violent protests.
Bob Grant, deputy St. Louis County counselor, told the Post-Dispatch: “Our position is that the police acted properly and did not use excessive force or use weaponry that was uncalled for.”
The protests began after Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson fatally shot Michael Brown on Aug. 9. Looting and violence marked the early days of the protests and flared up again after a grand jury declined to indict Wilson on Nov. 24.
“We’re not asking for crazy things here,” plaintiffs’ attorney Thomas B. Harvey told the Post-Dispatch. “Wear your ID. If you’re going to make your announcement to disperse, give people the right, a place, a way that they can comply with that order, and if you’re going to declare something an unlawful assembly, follow the statute.”
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