ST. LOUIS – The Missouri branch of the ACLU said it recently filed a lawsuit claiming the city of St. Louis violated the First Amendment rights of a protester who was arrested during the 2017 Women's March.
A Dec. 6 press release from the ACLU said, "after being arrested, Jessica Langford was transported, booked, and detained in jail for some nine hours for not moving onto a sidewalk when police demanded she do so, even though she was not blocking any traffic," with the arrest taking place "after the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department arbitrarily decided to end First Amendment expression while Langford was marching with others along Market Street."
Langford was one of the 13,000 demonstrators participating in the march.
The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, claims a city ordinance criminalizes any street blockage and failing to obey police orders on any circumstances, disregarding speech rights. The city does not issue permits for protests, contributing toward future First Amendment violations.
“St. Louis will continue to violate the law until its leaders proactively address the city ordinance and the lack of accountability in the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department,” ACLU of Missouri Legal Director Tony Rothert said in the release, adding that "people must have be able to exercise their First Amendment rights.”
This is the third lawsuit that ACLU filed against the city regarding the treatment of protesters.
The release said that in September 2017, "the ACLU filed a lawsuit focusing on police misuse of pepper spray, tear gas, and other uses of force, interference with video of police activity, and violations of due process during the protests following the acquittal of former police officer Jason Stockley in the shooting death of Anthony Lamar Smith."
In that same month, ACLU sued the city for misconduct during a protest in 2015, which followed the killing of Mansur Ball-Bey by a police officer.
The release noted "officers engaged in retaliation and used excessive force by deploying tear gas and pepper spray from a tactical vehicle at a small group of peaceful observers after the demonstration had dispersed."
In regards to St. Louis police violations, ACLU of Missouri Executive Director Jeffrey A. Mittman said that "St. Louis must show leadership and proactively address the ongoing and frequent violations of the Constitution by its police department. ... The people deserve to exercise their constitutional rights without fear of retaliation, excessive force, or unlawful arrest.”