ST. LOUIS – The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit today ruled that the injunction entered by a federal judge in the wake of 2017 protests following the acquittal of a white police officer who had killed a black motorist will remain in effect. The three-judge panel held that the district court was correct to refuse the City of St. Louis’ attempt to have the case dismissed and called for the case to be finally resolved by Halloween.
The ACLU of Missouri brought a challenge to police tactics against protestors in the midst of widespread protests of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department’s high rate of killings by police officers, especially killings of black men. Testimony at a three-day hearing in 2017 had shown protestors were subjected to arbitrary uses of force and arrests. In one case, an undercover detective embedded with protestors was beaten by police officers. Testimony from SLMPD officials revealed that officers are given the discretion to decide whether protests on public streets and sidewalks are lawful. Other witnesses described SLMPD officers treating those protesting non-police matters much differently than those concerned with police brutality.
The trial judge had ordered that the City limit officers’ discretion to enforce an unlawful assembly ordinance and use tear gas and pepper spray against protestors. A trial was scheduled for August 2019 but postponed because of the City’s appeal. Today’s decision keeps that injunction in place and requires the case be tried by October 31, 2021. The court of appeals noted that the parties had engaged in extensive negotiations to reach a settlement providing for institutional reform, but those efforts had faltered.
“It is important that the injunction remains in place to provide some measure of protection against the most flagrant abuses of protestors that have earned St. Louis police a notorious reputation,” said Tony Rothert, legal director for the ACLU of Missouri. “The new administration will now have a short window of opportunity to agree to necessary reforms, or we will go to trial and show that egregious police assaults of those protesting against racist policing are not aberrations—they are condoned and encouraged by the broken police department.”
In a decision issued last month in another ACLU of Missouri case, a different federal judge ruled that a First Amendment claim that the City is responsible for a longstanding pattern of retaliatory use of chemical agents against protestors will go to trial.