ACLU sues St. Louis City to protect rights of protesters

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ST. LOUIS, Mo. - The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Missouri is headed to federal court Wednesday morning (Oct. 18) for the first hearing in a lawsuit against the city of St. Louis.

The class action lawsuit alleges unlawful and unconstitutional actions against people by police officers during demonstrations following the "not guilty" ruling of a former St. Louis city police officer in September. The former officer, Jason Stockley, was charged with first degree murder in the 2011 shooting death of Anthony Lamar Smith.

The ACLU is asking the court to require the St. Louis city police department to immediately adopt protocols to protect the rights of individuals participating in, recording or observing protest activity.

Several witnesses are expected to testify during the hearing about their experience at the protests last month, including incidents where they say they were pepper sprayed and surrounded by police during a mass arrest event, and had officers interfere with them while recording the actions.

When peaceful protests turned violent in the days after the ruling, dozens of businesses were damaged and Interim Police Chief Lawrence O’Toole said 30 officers were injured.

O’Toole has defended the way officers responded during the demonstrations. In response to the accusations of officers "kettling" protestors during an incident where more than 100 people were arrested in downtown St. Louis, a police spokesperson said the geographical layout of the area dictated how the tactics were deployed.

The hearing is set to begin at 9 a.m. at the Thomas F. Eagleton Federal Courthouse.

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