Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American teen, was fatally shot August 9, 2014, by a member of the Ferguson Police Department. After our formal request to the St. Louis County Police Department was denied, the ACLU of Missouri filed a Sunshine Act lawsuit Aug. 14, to secure the release of the incident report,which would contain the who, what, when and how for the shooting. The Ferguson Police did not provide the ACLU with the incident report, however, the Ferguson Police Department held a press conference on Friday, Aug. 15, and gave out the incident report of a robbery that happened right before the shooting and Michael Brown was a suspect.
The ACLU of Missouri filed a second lawsuit Thursday, Aug. 14, to challenge the police policy of ordering members of the media and public to stop recording the police acting in their official duty on public streets and sidewalks and to declare the policy unconstitutional.
And on Friday, Aug. 15, we filed another Sunshine Law suit against the City of Ferguson to receive incident reports from the Ferguson Police Department.
On Saturday, Aug. 16, Gov. Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency and put a curfew in place from midnight until 5 a.m. The ACLU of Missouri, along with NAACP-LDF and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, released a statement about the civil liberties concerns surrounding the curfew. You can find the statement on our website. The next day the governor rescinded the curfew.
On Monday, Aug. 18, the curfew was lifted, but the ACLU of Missouri filed another First Amendment case and a motion for a temporary restraining order to stop police from requiring people to keep moving on sidewalks and thoroughfares in Ferguson unless they're gathered in a designated protest area. That motion was denied.
On Wednesday, Aug. 20, we faxed a letter to Colonel Ron Replogle, superintendent of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, asking for him to identify and remove a police officer who demonstrated an inability to perform appropriately in Ferguson. The officer pointed an assault weapon at civilians and threatened to kill them on Tuesday, Aug. 19. When asked to identify himself, the officer responded with profanity.
A representative of the Missouri State Highway Patrol informed the ACLU Wednesday afternoon that the offending officer has been identified as a St. Ann cop and he has been removed from duty in Ferguson. The ACLU sent Col. Replogle a thank you letter for his swift action.
On Wednesday, Aug. 20, the ACLU received a document from the St. Louis County Police Department in response to our Sunshine Law suit for the Michael Brown shooting incident report.
On Thursday, Aug. 21, the ACLU received a heavily redacted copy of the Ferguson Police Department incident report.
Updated: Sept. 29, 2014
A preliminary injunction hearing in the Mustafa Abdullah v. Saint Louis County et al. lawsuit regarding the "5-second rule" was held Monday, Sept. 29, in federal court. The original complaint and the brief can be found below.
Updated: Nov. 10, 2014
On Nov. 10, the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri filed a civil rights lawsuit on behalf of Bilgin Şaşmaz, a journalist with the Turkish Anadolu Agency who was on assignment covering the protests in Ferguson after the killing of Michael Brown. Şaşmaz’ rights under the First Amendment to freedom of the press and freedom of speech were violated. His photographic equipment was damaged and image files confiscated.
On the evening of Aug. 19, Şaşmaz had been photographing Ray Albers, a former St. Ann police office, who was pointing his weapon at protesters and yelling that he was going to kill them. A St. Louis County Police officer threw Şaşmaz violently into the pavement, handcuffed and arrested him, even though Şaşmaz repeatedly said “Press, Press” to identify himself as a member of the media to the officer.
Şaşmaz, of Middle Eastern descent, was working alongside many Caucasian reporters and photographers, who were not arrested but documented the interaction. “Mr. Şaşmaz should not have been treated like a criminal when he was only doing his job of reporting the unrest in Ferguson,” explains Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri. “Democracy suffers whenever the police hinder our news gatherers.”
“The ACLU will do everything we can to preserve the freedom of the press, which has been hampered many times in Ferguson,” says Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri. “The public has a right to learn what is happening in their community and draw their own conclusions about the appropriateness of police conduct.”
Updated: Nov. 21, 2014
The agreement that attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri, St. Louis County, the City of Ferguson and the Missouri Highway Patrol reached in federal court for the right to record police back on Aug. 15 has been ineffective, so the ACLU of Missouri filed a motion for a preliminary injunction on Nov. 14, 2014.
On Friday, Nov. 21, United States District Judge John A. Ross granted three court orders against the Missouri State Highway Patrol, the County of St. Louis and the City of Ferguson.
Updated: Nov. 24, 2014
The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri sent a letter advising Lincoln College Preparatory Academy to not punish students who participated in a silent protest on Nov. 20. According to news reports, 12 students were given a Saturday detention for standing and holding their hands up in a sign of surrender when Governor Nixon gave a speech at their school.
“Instead of punishing students, Lincoln College Prep should applaud the students who exercised their free speech in such a respectful, peaceful and mature manner,” said Sarah Rossi, director of advocacy and policy for the ACLU of Missouri. “It took courage for them to send a message to Gov. Nixon, their teachers and classmates.”
“The school’s action to punish students violates the First Amendment,” said Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri. “Immediate steps must be taken to correct their wrong-doing.”
“The ACLU of Missouri is paying attention to First Amendment rights not just in the streets of Ferguson, but in schools as well,” explains Jeffrey A. Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri. “To paraphrase the Supreme Court, it is our right to speak freely and promote diversity of ideas which sets us apart from totalitarian regimes.”
Grand Jury Decision: Nov. 24, 2014
Today the grand jury decided not to indict Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson for the fatal shooting of Michael Brown. “The grand jury’s decision does not negate the fact that Michael Brown’s tragic death is part of an alarming national trend of officers using excessive force against people of color, often during routine encounters. Yet in most cases, the officers and police departments are not held accountable,” said Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri. "While many officers carry out their jobs with respect for the communities they serve, we must confront the profound disconnect and disrespect that many communities of color experience with their local law enforcement.
“The ACLU will continue to fight for racial justice. We must end the prevailing policing paradigm where police departments are more like occupying forces, imposing their will to control communities. This ‘us’ versus ‘them’ policing antagonizes communities by casting a blanket of suspicion over entire neighborhoods, often under the guise of preventing crime.
“To build trust, we need a democratic system of policing where our communities have an equal say in the way their neighborhoods are policed. Collaboration, transparency and communication between police and communities around the shared goals of equality, fairness and public safety is the path forward.”
Updated: Dec. 16, 2014
Today the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri filed a civil rights action against St. Louis County and police officer James Vollmer for violating the constitutional rights of Gerald “Trey” Yingst, a News2Share reporter and producer. He is seeking judgment against the County for its failure to train and supervise Officer Vollmer and for defamation.
On Nov. 22, Yingst was arrested in Ferguson. Police claimed he was standing in the street and failed to disperse after being asked by law enforcement to do so. However, several eye-witness accounts and video recordings of the incident show that Yingst was standing on the sidewalk exercising his First Amendment right to record police at the time of his arrest. This occurred one day after the ACLU of Missouri had secured court orders against the Missouri State Highway Patrol, the County of St. Louis and the City of Ferguson requiring that the police respect the First Amendment rights of journalists.
“It is troubling that the First Amendment rights of the media continued to be trampled despite multiple court orders prohibiting such government overreach,” said Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri.
“Members of the press should be treated with respect, not harassed and arrested for doing their jobs,” said Jeffrey Mittman, ACLU of Missouri executive director. “After all, the media serve as our eyes on the ground and we all depend on them to have unfettered access to events as they unfold in our communities.”
Videos of Yingst getting arrested can be found at: http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/55733160 (at 35:40 mark) and http://m.ustream.tv/recorded/55733929?rmalang=en_US (at 1:15 mark).
Updated: Dec. 18, 2014
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit against Missouri's Ferguson-Florissant School District, charging the district's electoral system is locking African-Americans out of the political process.
The case, brought on behalf of the Missouri NAACP and African-American residents, is challenging the district’s at-large system used to elect school board members. The at-large system violates the federal Voting Rights Act by diluting African-American voting strength, the complaint charges. Information and case documents on this case are found on the docket page for Missouri NAACP v. Ferguson-Florissant School District.
Updated: Dec. 22, 2014
Today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri filed a civil rights lawsuit against the Kansas City School District, because the district violated a student’s First Amendment rights. The suit asks the court to stop punishing the student for participating in a protest. Information and case documents can be found on the docket page for M.M. v. Kansas City School District.
Updated: Dec. 22, 2014
Judge Catherine Perry signed a permanent order in our "5-second rule" lawsuit Mustafa Abdullah v. Saint Louis County et al.
Updated: Jan. 5, 2015
Grand Juror Doe, who served on the grand jury which investigated the killing of Michael Brown by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson, is suing Robert McCulloch, prosecuting attorney for St. Louis County. Doe would like to talk about the experience of serving on a grand jury, the evidence presented and the investigation in a way that could contribute to the public dialogue concerning race relations. Information and case documents on this case are found on the docket page for Grand Juror Doe v. McCulloch.
Updated: March 4, 2015
The Department of Justice releases its report on their investigation of the Ferguson Police Department and their report regarding the criminal investigation into the shooting death of Michael Brown by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson.
The DOJ found that “Ferguson Police disproportionately stopped African-Americans for no reasonable suspicion, made arrests with no probable cause and used force disproportionately against blacks,” according to the St. Louis Post Dispatch. Of the 14 incidents where a police dog bit a person and there was racial information, 100 percent of the bitten were black. The Justice Department also reportedly uncovered evidence of racist emails within the police department.
The DOJ will not bring federal civil rights charges against Officer Darren Wilson because the evidence does not establish that Officer Wilson violated the applicable federal criminal civil rights statute.
Update on March 6, 2015
Today, the ACLU of Missouri filed a Memorandum in Opposition to McCulloch's motion to dismiss.
Update on March 9, 2015
Mustafa Abdullah, ACLU of Missouri program associate, testified on behalf of the ACLU of Missouri and National ACLU, at a hearing in Washington, D.C., before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.The issue was social protests and human rights in the Americas and Mustafa talked about his experience at the Ferguson protests. (See the YouTube video below and go to the 14 minute mark for his testimony.)
Update on March 13, 2015
The ACLU of Missouri extends its sympathies to the two officers who were shot early Thursday morning outside the Ferguson police station. We are pleased to learn the officers have both been released from the hospital and we hope they have speedy and full recoveries.
Thursday’s act of violence put both police officers and peaceful protesters in harm’s way and has unfortunately eclipsed the City of Ferguson’s recent efforts to build community trust.
Violence is never the answer.
The ACLU of Missouri resolves to protect the First Amendment rights of all seeking change through non-violent protests.
Darnell Singleton and Jennifer McCoy have videotapes of Mr. Kampas’ arrest. You can find Mr. Singleton’s version on Facebook.
Update on August 3, 2015
Journalists Bilgin ?a?maz and Trey Yingst, who were both arrested for recording police during two separate protests in Ferguson, will not be charged and St. Louis County will aid their efforts to have information about their arrests removed from their records. The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri filed lawsuits on their behalf and announced today that both cases have settled.
“Bilgin and Trey are relieved to put these incidents behind them and to no longer have the possibility of criminal charges hanging over their heads. We are gratified that St. Louis County acknowledges that they should never have been arrested,” explains Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri.
“We hope these settlements indicate that St. Louis County realizes mistakes were made in the arrest of people, including journalists, who were committing no crimes in Ferguson,” says Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri. “The First Amendment protects our right to protest and allows the press to document unfolding events so we can draw our own conclusions about the appropriateness of police conduct.”
Update on Jan. 28, 2016
The ACLU of Missouri issued a letter to Ferguson Prosecutor Stephanie Karr urging her to take swift action following complaints about the City of Ferguson having blocked the appointment of the person selected by the majority of the remaining City Council members following the passing of Council Member Brian Fletcher. The City's Charter requires that a vacancy be filled by a majority-vote by the remaining Council Members, excluding the Mayor.