ST. LOUIS — The Missouri Court of Appeals Eastern Division upheld a trial court’s dismissal of a lawsuit filed by demonstrators who were arrested in 2014 outside a Black Lives Matter protest against police brutality in Ferguson.
The protestors, Melissa V. Bennett and Koach Baruch Frazier, formerly known as Rebecca L. Frazier, were charged under St. Louis County Ordinance Section 701.110 (The Ordinance), which makes it “unlawful for any person to interfere in any manner with a police officer or other employee of the County in the performance of his official duties or to obstruct him in any manner whatsoever while performing any duty," according to the appellate court’s order filed on Dec. 19.
Bennett and Frazier subsequently filed suit against St. Louis County and Peter Jay Krane. After the trial court dismissed the case, an amicus brief was filed by the MacArthur Justice Center of St. Louis.
“It argues that the Court of Appeals should strike down this law, because of its vagueness and its ability to be used as a rationale for arresting people who are not doing anything illegal,” according to an article in the St. Louis American.
The plaintiffs raised several points in their appeal, arguing the ordinance was vague and lacked an intent of wrongdoing requirement. They also argued that the words “overbroad,” “interfere” and “in any manner” were vague, “...which effectively proscribed a substantial amount of protected free speech activity, including comments that may annoy, interrupt or protest a police officer's activities,” according to the court’s order.
The appeals court rejected their argument.
“We conclude that the Ordinance is neither unconstitutionally overbroad nor unconstitutionally vague under both the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I of the Missouri Constitution," Judge Kurt Odenwald wrote in the final decision. "Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.”
Judges Robert Dowd Jr. and Sherri Sullivan concurred.