Update: The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department is now investigating whether officers' taser user in this incident complied with police policies, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.
Original story continues below:
On Friday night, police said, a peaceful protest ended in eight arrests after activists blocked traffic on a busy downtown street, refused officers' orders to return to the sidewalk and almost caused multiple car accidents. Two of the protesters resisted arrest, the department claimed, and had to be subdued with a taser.
But the story may not be quite that simple.
A disturbing video of some of those Friday night arrests is raising familiar questions about how the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department responds to civil disobedience, the department's protocols for using tasers and the trustworthiness of its incident reports.
According to a protester arrested that night, the police-issued narrative ignores the full sequence of events that ended with two people -- including a University City school board member -- writhing in pain on the ground and charged for resisting arrest.
"I've seen it happen a few times, I've seen aggression from them," says LaShell Eikerenkoetter, a veteran protester who experienced her first arrest four days after the August 9 death of Michael Brown. "But to experience someone being tased next to me? Hearing her scream, and the police showing no concern? That was just something so heartless."
Here's the video, which shows SLMPD officers arresting protesters on a downtown sidewalk. Eikerenkoetter can be seen at the 14-second mark, wearing a black t-shirt and carrying a messenger bag.
According Eikerenkoetter, the Friday protest started around 8 p.m. when a group of 30 to 40 people gathered on Clark Avenue between Busch Stadium and Ballpark Village.
"At the beginning, the demonstration was a silent march," she says. "We didn't say anything. Some people were really supportive, some people talked a lot of trash, some people were really upset. Somebody threw a drink and ice hit some kids that were with us."
This wasn't the first time protesters took their message of "Black Lives Matter" to St. Louis' sports fans. Back in October, several Cardinals fans were caught on video catcalling protesters with racist remarks and chants, including "crackhead" and "Africa! Africa! Africa!"
Besides a few verbal clashes, Eikerenkoetter says that interactions between activists and Cards fans stayed largely civil during the three hours of protest. Most of the protesters made their way to Kiener Plaza and dispersed around 11 p.m.
However, approximately twelve demonstrators, including Eikerenkoetter, broke off from the main group and began walking down the middle of Washington Avenue. Surveillance footage aired by KTVI Channel 2 shows protesters marching down the middle of the road as cars pass slowly on both sides. Eikerenkoetter can be seen around the 26-second mark walking in the street with her fist raised.
This is what the police suggest nearly caused several car crashes.
"Nobody 'almost hit us'," Eikerenkoetter insists. "We didn't 'almost cause accidents.' We were dead in the middle of the street."
Next: The police begin making arrests.
Eikerenkoetter says she drifted behind the marchers to speak with some bystanders, but rejoined her fellow protesters to walk in the middle of Washington for a few more blocks. The group returned to the sidewalk after police ordered them off the street, she says.
Soon after, a contingent of SLMPD bike cops began arresting protesters.
"Three or four cops walk up, they don't say anything, they came up and just grabbed people," she says. "They told us to leave, to get out of the way, and we were walking away as we were told to do."
As Eikerenkoetter walked away from the scene of the arrests, she was followed by Kristine Hendrix, a University City school board member who was filming the scene on her cellphone. As the video shows, Hendrix was recording as a SLMPD bike cop charged onto the sidewalk and tasered a male protester.
Seconds later, a police officer tased Hendrix. Her voice can be heard wailing on the video, "Oh my god, why did you do that?" Eikerenkoetter says the taser struck Hendrix in the hand.
Eikerenkoetter soon found herself pressed into the ground and under arrest. Another officer ordered Hendrix to put her hands behind her back, she says, but Hendrix appeared unable move after the pain of being tased. Hendrix was then tased a second time.
"I can't, it hurts," Hendrix pleads in the video, before the second taser strike. "It hurts so bad, please stop. Please stop hurting me."
During the arrests, Eikerenkoetter claims that two officers walked by and said "stop resisting," while another told her "police lives matter."
Eikerenkoetter and the seven other arrested protesters were transported to the City Justice Center, where they were processed and eventually charged with impeding the flow of traffic. Hendrix and another protester, Emmanuel Jones, were also charged with resisting arrest.
Eikerenkoetter was finally released around 7 a.m. Saturday. But before she could leave the Justice Center, she says she had to endure a creepy sexual offer from one of the prison guards.
"A correctional officer, he saw that I was all quiet. He said that he liked that about me. He asked if I had a boyfriend, if I liked women. He said he was married, that his wife liked females and that they were interested in having another person 'to have fun with.' He asked if I would be person they could have fun with."
When asked about the arrests, SLMPD Chief Sam Dotson told KTVI: "Our response was very appropriate and very measured. At some point, when people's lives are put at risk -- and that night protesters and [motorists] were put at risk -- I think they expect their police department to do something."
Following the release of the video on Sunday, St. Louis Alderman Antonio French tweeted that he would ask the Board of Aldermen's Public Safety Committee to investigate the incident.
I agree. I'm requesting the Public Safety Committee do that immediately. https://t.co/zb1a7SKGpx— Antonio French (@AntonioFrench) June 1, 2015
Did you witness the Friday night arrests? Were you arrested? We want to hear your story. You can contact us at the email below.
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