The city of St. Louis and 11 of its law enforcement officials were sued in federal court Friday by a reporter who was arrested and pepper-sprayed while covering a protest against police violence.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Michael Faulk alleges he was illegally assaulted and arrested while covering a protest held last September after a white former St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department officer was acquitted in the 2011 shooting death of a black motorist, according to a lawsuit filed Friday in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri.
“Mr. Faulk had been covering the wave of protests following the acquittal of former SLMPD Officer Jason Stockley for killing Anthony Lamar Smith,” attorney David Nelson wrote in the 29-page complaint. “Mr. Faulk’s unlawful arrest and assault by the SLMPD resulted in Mr. Faulk spending 13 hours in the St. Louis City jail and has caused continuing psychological and professional distress.”
Mr. Faulk, 32, was among more than 100 people arrested on the evening of Sept. 17 as demonstrators protested the not guilty verdict delivered two days earlier.
Police used a tactic known as “kettling” to surround the protesters on all sides before slowly boxing them in, according to the lawsuit. Mr. Faulk was among the crowd when the kettling took place, and he alleges he was assaulted before being taken into custody.
“Approaching the group of kettled citizens on the ground, SLMPD officers began to indiscriminately deploy pepper spray on the submissive crowd. The noxious spray wafted over the group, causing choking and coughing. Mr. Faulk felt the pepper spray land on his back and neck, causing immediate and acute stinging pain,” his attorney wrote.
One of the officers “placed his boot onto Mr. Faulk’s head and used his weight to press Mr. Faulk’s head into the asphalt of the street,” the suit alleges. “Despite cries of pain from Mr. Faulk, the officer continued to press Mr. Faulk’s head against the ground.”
Mr. Faulk repeatedly identified himself to police as a reporter throughout the incident, according to his lawsuit. He was ultimately booked for failure to disperse and released the following day after his employer posted bond.
“Mr. Faulk now believes that it is unlikely that he can continue his journalistic career in St. Louis because editors concerned about a perceived conflict of interest will not permit him to report on the broad scope of governmental issues for which he was hired. Further, he is significantly less likely to cover protests in the future for fear of assault by police,” his suit states.
The complaint alleges violations of the reporter’s First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, and it requests a jury trial seeking monetary damages yet to be determined.
St. Louis City Counselor Julian Bush said that city policy precluded him from commenting on pending litigation, the Post-Dispatch reported.
The police’s conduct is currently the subject of a separate case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, HuffPost reported Friday.
U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry ruled in November that St. Louis police “exercised their discretion in an arbitrary and retaliatory fashion to punish protesters for voicing criticism of police or recording police conduct.”