ST. LOUIS- As part of a lawsuit settlement with Ferguson activists, three police departments agreed March 26 to restrict the use of tear gas and other chemical agents during peaceful demonstrations.
“This victory rests on the shoulders of the courageous protestors who are tirelessly demonstrating in the streets of Ferguson, and it’s a testament to the powerful movement they have fostered,” said Thomas Harvey of Arch City Defenders. Harvey, along with Denise Lieberman of the Advancement Project, represented the seven named Ferguson plaintiffs who have agreed to dismiss their claims as part of the settlement.
Attorney’s representing St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar, and Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ronald S. Johnson signed off on the court order, agreeing to pay $2,500 in legal costs, and not use the threat of tear gas as a form of intimidation or punishment of individuals exercising their First Amendment Rights.
Noting in a joint statement, Lieberman explained that, “We had not seen this kind of excessive police force used against protestors since the civil rights movement of the 1960’s,” adding, “The use of tear gas in Ferguson has been a tactic to chill this movement, and today’s consent decree will finally put a stop to those efforts.”
Police Command will order their officers to comply with the settlement, and include the terms in their written policies by August 15.
Though police witnesses testified that these tactics were necessary to prevent looting and potentially save lives, U.S. District Judge Carol Jackson expressed empathy with the demonstrators but ultimately did not implement all of their demands in the order. Jackson rejected a demand that police be restricted to using chemical agents as a “last resort,” saying that there was no legal way of defining that term.
Photo Aug. 17, 2014, police wait to advance after tear gas was used to disperse a crowd during a protest for Michael Brown, who was killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)