ST. LOUIS (CN) – A journalist arrested and jailed for 13 hours after covering street protests arising from the 2011 shooting of a black man sued St. Louis and several officers, claiming they pepper-sprayed and assaulted him even though he did nothing wrong and clearly identified himself as a member of the press.
Last September, four days of protests broke out in the city after a judge acquitted former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley for the killing of 24-year-old Anthony Lamar Smith. Stockley, who is white, fatally shot Smith, a black man, following a police chase after a suspected drug deal in December 2011.
Though protests were peaceful during the day, at night the city dispatched police in riot gear to quell unrest after people threw bricks into windows. Police arrested more than 120 people.
At the time, interim police chief Lawrence O’Toole lauded the efforts of his officers in restoring order.
“I’m proud to say the city of St. Louis and the police owned the night,” O’Toole said.
But witnesses revealed a less flattering portrait of police, with protestors reporting that officers turned violent and had been heard chanting, “Whose streets? Our streets!” — words that protestors often use when confronting police violence.
In a lawsuit filed Friday in St. Louis federal court, St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Mike Faulk claims officers dressed in riot gear with shields and batons surrounded a group of peaceful protestors on all four sides on Sept. 17, 2017.
Caught in the ensuing melee, Faulk says officers threw him violently to the ground and arrested him even though he was not resisting and had identified himself as a reporter. He says he was left with injuries to his limbs, neck and shoulders.
“Mr. Faulk’s unlawful arrest and assault by the [St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department] resulted in Mr. Faulk spending 13 hours in the St. Louis City jail and has caused continuing psychological and professional distress,” the 28-page complaint states.
Represented by David Nelson of Nelson & Nelson and attorneys with the ArchCity Defenders, Faulk seeks punitive damages for claims of excessive force, assault and battery and other civil rights violations.
Faulk and ArchCity spokeswoman Rebecca Gorley referred Courthouse News to Nelson for comment. He did not immediately respond Monday to a request for interview.
St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson’s spokesman Koran Addo said the city could not comment on pending litigation. The St. Louis Police Department did not respond to an emailed request for comment.
When asked if any of the officers in the lawsuit are facing any disciplinary action, Addo mentioned an ongoing federal investigation into police misconduct during the protests, as well as a police department internal inquiry.
On the night of Sept. 17, Faulk says he was reporting for the Post-Dispatch when police boxed him and about 100 protestors in at the intersection of Washington Avenue and Tucker Boulevard, using a technique called “kettling.” The officers never gave an order to disperse, Faulk claims, and there was no way for the peaceful protestors to leave.
Faulk alleges that even though he was wearing his Post-Dispatch credential around his neck and had identified himself as a member of the press, up to five officers tackled him to the ground.
One officer allegedly tried to hit him in the genitals with a baton and other officers grabbed him by each of his limbs. Another officer sprayed him in the face with pepper spray, he says. At no time did Faulk resist the officers or do anything wrong, according to the complaint.
“As a result of the assault, Mr. Faulk sustained injuries to his neck, shoulders, hips, and legs,” the lawsuit states.
Another officer allegedly “placed his boot onto Mr. Faulk’s head and used his weight to press Mr. Faulk’s head into the asphalt of the street.”
“Despite cries of pain from Mr. Faulk, the officer continued to press Mr. Faulk’s head against the ground,” the lawsuit adds.
Faulk says that he suffered nerve damage after officers tightened his wrists with zip-ties. He claims that while he sat in a police van, he saw officers smoking cigars and high-fiving and heard the “Whose streets? Our streets!” chant.
After allegedly spending 13 hours in jail, he was released on a $500 bond and faced charges of suspicion of failure to disperse. The reporter claims that even though St. Louis later issued a special order ensuring that journalists have the right to cover protests, the city’s charges are still pending.
Faulk says he has been on medical leave from the Post-Dispatch since last month. He claims his assignments had “slowly diminished” before taking leave.
“Mr. Faulk now believes that it is unlikely that he can continue his journalistic career in St. Louis because editors concerned about a perceived conflict of interest will not permit him to report on the broad scope of governmental issues for which he was hired. Further, he is significantly less likely to cover protests in the future for fear of assault by police,” the complaint states.