CHICAGO – Missouri residents sued the city of Ferguson and St. Louis County, claiming police violated their civil rights by using excessive force in response to protests over an officer’s killing of an unarmed black teenager.
The Aug. 9 shooting of Michael Brown, 18, by Ferguson policeman Darren Wilson touched off days of protests punctuated by outbursts of violence and looting. Police responded with armored vehicles and tear gas.
“Defendants used wanton and excessive force, under color of law,” the residents said in a complaint filed Thursday in St. Louis federal court.
The six plaintiffs, including a woman and her minor child, are seeking as much as $1.5 million each in compensatory damages each for false arrest, assault, emotional distress and failure to properly supervise the police. On some of their claims, they are also seeking $1 million in punitive damages.
The defendants include Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson, his St. Louis County counterpart, Jon Belmar, Ferguson policeman Justin Cosma, the city and the county, as well as city and county police officers identified as “John Does” in the complaint.
Brian Schellman, a spokesman for the St. Louis County police said by phone that officials there had only recently seen the complaint and were referring inquiries to the municipality’s lawyer, Pat Redington. Redington couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
Jackson and Ferguson Mayor James Knowles didn’t immediately respond to phone messages seeking comment on the lawsuit.
In the complaint, plaintiff Tracey White alleged she and her son were arrested by police including Cosma at a fast food restaurant in Ferguson after attending a peace rally there on Aug. 13, purportedly for failing to immediately heed instructions to leave the establishment. They were held for five hours and then released, according to the complaint.
Dewayne Matthews was shot with rubber bullets, assaulted and sprayed by police on the same day, while en route to his mother’s house without having taken part in any protests in Ferguson, according to the complaint. He wasn’t charged with a crime, according to the complaint.
Another man, Kerry White, was photographing protests from his vehicle when police began moving down the street where he was parked, firing tear gas and ordering people to disperse, according to the lawsuit. Hemmed in by a police vehicle, White said he was unable to comply. Police pulled the memory chip from his camera and arrested him, according to the complaint.
The other two plaintiffs were also accused of failing to disperse after filming the protests on Aug. 11, according to the complaint.
By then, the city was riven by riots and looting in the wake of the shooting of Brown by a white officer.
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