A judge’s 2017 ruling limiting how St. Louis police officers can control protesters was meant to be a temporary order and must end unless a trial court takes up the issue within six months, a federal appeals court ruled.
A panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued the 2-1 decision Tuesday on U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry’s preliminary injunction issued Nov. 15, 2017. ACLU of Missouri Attorney Tony Rothert said in a statement that a permanent injunction will be sought unless newly-elected Mayor Tishaura Jones agrees to policy changes without the court’s intervention.
“The new (mayoral) 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,” Rothert said.
Jones' office declined comment, citing the pending litigation. She was elected mayor on April 6 after running on a progressive platform that included calls for significant police reforms, and was sworn in on April 20.
At issue was a violent 2017 protest in downtown St. Louis that followed the acquittal of former police officer Jason Stockley in the death of a Black suspect. Stockley killed Anthony Lamar Smith after a police chase in 2011. Police dashcam video captured Stockley, who is white, saying, “going to kill this (expletive), don’t you know it,” in the midst of the chase. Stockley fired five shots into Smith’s car.
Stockley’s attorney, Neil Bruntrager, said at trial that Stockley fired only after Smith refused commands to put up his hands and reached along the seat toward an area where a gun was found. Prosecutors said Stockley planted the gun. Testing found Stockley’s DNA on the gun, but not Smith’s.
Two days after the acquittal, protesters smashed windows and caused other damage downtown. Police eventually used pepper spray and tear gas and arrested 125 people. Police critics said many of those arrested were peaceful protesters, bystanders and journalists. An undercover officer mistaken as a real protester was beaten by fellow officers.
Perry’s order prohibited the use of chemical agents unless demonstrators pose “an imminent threat to use force or violence or violate a criminal law with force or violence.”
The order was never meant to be permanent but rather to limit police actions until the case played out in court. It never went to trial.
“Given the events in the fall of 2017, we do not question the district court’s decision to issue a preliminary injunction that included affirmative mandates pending a prompt trial on the merits of plaintiffs’ claims for a permanent injunction. But there has been no prompt trial,” the appeals court ruling stated.
The unrest stemming from the Stockley verdict happened months after Lyda Krewson was elected mayor. She did not seek a second term.