PHOTO BY THEO WELLING
Maleeha Ahmad reacts after being pepper-sprayed by St. Louis officers.
The ACLU of Missouri has filed a class action lawsuit against the city of St. Louis
on behalf of protesters — alleging the city has retaliated against them for expressing their right to free speech, unreasonably seized them, applied undue force and violated their due process rights with methods including "kettling," gassing them and spraying them without fair warning.
The lawsuit was filed today in federal court on behalf of lead plaintiffs Maleeha Ahmad (who appears on the cover of this week's RFT
and in the photo above after being hit with pepper spray downtown last Friday
) and Alison Dreith, who was also pepper-sprayed at the downtown protest. Dreith is also executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri.
See also: Protests Break Out in Downtown St. Louis After Cop Is Acquitted
Both Dreith and Ahmad were protesting downtown on the afternoon of Friday, September 15
. That was just hours after the announcement that former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley had been found not guilty of murder — and well before any of the damage that would result later in the weekend following the end of organized protests.
Neither has been charged with any crime.
"I think everyone deserves the same rights as I do. I just want peace and justice,” Ahmad said in a prepared statement. “If it hadn’t been for my fellow peaceful protestors – strangers who came to my aid — I don’t know how my eyesight would be today. I would have been left out in the sun, on the ground, with my face burning.”
See also: Cops Mace Protesters as Scene Downtown Intensifies
PHOTO COURTESY OF ZACH STAFFORD
Alison Dreith reacts in agony after being pepper-sprayed while protesting downtown on Friday, September 15.
“St. Louis should be a place where all people feel safe against retaliation from law enforcement, and all should receive due process," Dreith said in a statement. "We should strive to be a place where every citizen feels supported by the communities we call home. This is the vision that drives us into the streets and inspires us to hold our leaders accountable when they betray our values."
Because it's a class action suit, the ACLU action seeks to represent all others who similarly had their constitutional rights violated during the protests.
On both Friday and Sunday, the ACLU alleges, protesters and bystanders had chemical weapons used against them without proper protocol. The suit also alleges that officers interfered with people lawfully recording them.
And, the suit alleges, claims police officers on Sunday surrounded protesters — a tactic called kettling — and pepper sprayed them in the face, even pulling off their goggles to ensure a direct hit.
“While long shifts and being the subject of the protest is understandably challenging for police, that is no excuse for violating the Constitution,” Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri, said in a statement.
See also: The Police Owned the Night, Chief Says After 80+ Arrests Downtown
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PHOTO COURTESY OF ZACH STAFFORD
Alison Dreith reacts after being pepper-sprayed.