ST. LOUIS –– The city of Normandy faces a class-action lawsuit over complaints that the police department, court system and prosecutor's office over-policed low-income communities of color and issued arbitrary citations and fines for minor offenses.
Angela Davis, Quinton M. Thomas, Roelif Earl Carter and Meredith Walker filed the complaint on Sept. 10 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri.
City officials "terrorized" the plaintiffs by "extorting money from thousands of poor, disproportionately African-American people in the St. Louis region, creating a modern-day police state and debtors' prison scheme that has no place in American society," attorneys for the plaintiffs wrote in the 50-page complaint.
The plaintiffs claim they had to sit in jail solely because they could not afford to post bond.
"Defendant did not inquire about, much less accommodate, the hardships its extortionate demands placed on Plaintiffs and their families," the complaint states. "Nor did defendant offer to provide plaintiffs with counsel who could advise them of their rights or otherwise protect them from this predatory scheme."
The plaintiffs are represented by John M. Waldron of ArchCity Defenders, a St. Louis-based firm.
The lawsuit alleges city officials aggressively cite citizens for traffic and code violations, which result in various penalties and surcharges when add up like "debts to a loan shark."
Further, the plaintiffs say arrest warrants are automatically generated without good cause "or even a semblance of due process," and imprisonment without legal representation "in squalid debtors' prisons."
The scheme disproportionately targets African-Americans, putting jobs at risk, leaving children without supervision and "debasing fundamental human rights, for as long as it takes to strong-arm payment from plaintiffs and others."
"In particular, Defendant has preyed on the most vulnerable, those living in or near poverty, who are least able to bear, or to avoid, the extortionate costs this system has imposed," the complaint states.