A federal judge has dismissed a $41.5 million lawsuit that protesters in Ferguson, Mo., had filed against police, the city and the county, alleging that police used excessive force against them during unrest that erupted after a white police officer shot an unarmed black teenager in August 2014.
In a 74-page decision, Judge Henry Autrey ruled that plaintiffs “have completely failed to present any credible evidence” that any actions by police “were taken with malice or were committed in bad faith” during protests in the wake of the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson. Brown was killed by Officer Darren Wilson. A grand jury declined to indict Wilson in Brown’s death.
Autrey wrote that police gave numerous orders for the protesters to disperse and that police “clearly had argued probable cause to arrest any individual” who refused to comply with the orders.
“At the time of the events detailed herein, the atmosphere surrounding the arrests was extremely intense and had turned violent,” the judge wrote. “Participants in what had turned from a peaceful assembly to unlawful assembly were advised to disperse. Numerous warnings had been announced to the crowds to do so.”
Autrey ruled that individual police officers who were defendants are subject to immunity in the case.
The judge wrote that the plaintiffs presented scant evidence to back up their claims. Autrey recounted the stories of a number of protesters, including a woman who said she was thrown to the ground and her son arrested inside a McDonald’s. Autrey wrote that she was arrested a block away.
“The fact of the matter is she was arrested for no reason,” Gregory Lattimer, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said in an interview.
Another man said he was shot by rubber bullets and bean bags, pepper-sprayed and hit his head while falling into a creek.
“They drowned me for about five, six seconds,” the man, Dwayne Matthews, said, according to the suit.
Autrey later wrote that Matthews’s statements “belie his position” and that he told paramedics “he was shot with rubber bullets and tear gas after he did not heed the orders” to disperse.
Plaintiffs have appealed the ruling. Lattimer said many of those arrested were on the periphery of the protests and were detained for no good reason.
“Bringing Missouri in line with the part of the country that believes that the rights of the individual have meaning is going to be a difficult fight,” he said.
Attempts to reach attorneys for Ferguson and St. Louis County were unsuccessful.
The Justice Department issued a scathing report against the Ferguson Police Department in 2015. Even if Brown’s death was not racially motivated, the report found, the department used racially discriminatory tactics and officers sent racist jokes over department email. From 2012 to 2014, the report found, African Americans made up 93 percent of the department’s arrests but constituted 63 percent of the city’s population.