In Ferguson, Protesters and Police Close in On Settlement as Judge Prohibits Police From Using Teargas Without Warning
After months of nasty confrontations in Ferguson, the protesters and the police are close to settling a lawsuit filed by protesters accusing the police of violating the constitutional rights of protesters by firing teargas without warning with the intent to “inflict pain and anguish rather than accomplishing any legitimate law enforcement objective.”
Because the two sides say they are close to coming to a settlement that will dictate the parameters surrounding protest and police methods, U.S. District Court Judge Carol Jackson extended by 45 days a restraining order requiring police to grant warnings before firing tear gas and pepper spray in order to give crowds “reasonable” time to disperse.
The lawsuit was filed against local and state law enforcement by six plaintiffs—a coffee shop owner; two area activists; a legal observer; a professor from St. Louis University; and a college student. The suit alleges that during the protest demonstration against the grand jury decision not to indict officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown, law enforcement fired tear gas cannisters at crowds that included children and elderly people without warning, boxing them in without means to disperse, and that police failed to wear proper identification.
In response, police officials claimed last month in court that the smoke and tear gas were used used to protect the safety of officers and to prevent property destruction.
But Jackson seemed to side with the protesters, writing after last month’s hearing that evidence “establishes that law enforcement officials failed to give the plaintiffs and other protesters any warning that chemical agents would be deployed and, hence, no opportunity to avoid injury.”
While she called for police to give adequate warning before firing tear gas, Judge Jackson did not grant the plaintiffs’ wish for her to grant an order that tear gas be used strictly as a “last resort to prevent significant threats to public safety.”
The temporary order will stay in effect until the two sides come to a settlement or if Judge Jackson deems that the order should become permanent.
Denise Lieberman, attorney for the protesters, told the judge that the two sides “are in good-faith settlement discussions,” according to published reports.
Speaking on behalf of state and local officials, Michael Hughes, an attorney for St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar, said the discussion centers around devising policies that must be approved by boards and elected officials that oversee the city and county police forces, as well as the Missouri Highway Patrol.