On August 14, 2017, Jamal White, a black man in his mid-twenties, was standing in downtown St. Louis when a confrontation occurred with St. Louis Police officer Adam Feaman.
Officer Feaman attempted to place White under arrest, allegedly for violating a city noise ordinance with his car and disturbing the peace. White, who was unarmed, stepped back, saying, “I’m not under arrest!” Then, “How am I under arrest?”
Feaman, continuing to walk towards him, ordered, “Put your hands behind your back! You’re under arrest!” White broke into a nervous jog away. Feaman, now running at White, yelled once more, “You’re under arrest!”
As Feaman caught up, White responded, “What? Get the fuck off me bro! How am I under...” That’s when Feaman struck White in the face with a large flashlight, mid-sentence, cracking his jaw. As White fell to the ground, Feaman struck him in the back of the head again with the flashlight. With White injured and on the ground, Feaman yelled, twice, “Get on the fucking ground!”
A bystander captured the incident on video, and later provided the video to White’s lawyer, Jermaine Wooten. The attorney filed a lawsuit on White’s behalf in April in federal court, alleging excessive force. As the lawsuit notes, the standing orders issued by St. Louis police specifically note that flashlights “may not be used as impact weapons.”
In the suit, Wooten claims that a little over a month after the incident, Officer Feaman identified White at a local bar or club and, after apparently having heard that White planned to sue him, threatened to “crack [his] jaw again.” That night, September 30, 2017, Feaman had to be escorted out of the establishment after starting the confrontation with White.
But those two incidents involving White are only the latest in alleged misconduct by Officer Feaman dating back to at least 2010. “Employee Misconduct Reports” in Feaman’s file from 2010 to 2017 show the officer has faced numerous complaints over his treatment of young black men.
Generated by the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, the reports were obtained by Samuel Sinyangwe and Campaign Zero, who shared them with the Grassroots Accountability Movement, GRAM. (This story is being published in a joint effort between the RFT and GRAM.)
In 2010, a 22-year-old black man filed a complaint alleging that Officer Feaman had pulled him over and directed racial slurs at him, the records show. The next year, 2011, a 22-year-old black man complained that Officer Feaman planted drugs on him, and that while Feaman arrested him, another officer hit him in the face multiple times.
In 2012, a 21-year-old black man filed a complaint alleging that Officer Feaman had punched him in the face, using unnecessary violence. Two years later, in 2014, a 31-year-old black man alleged that Officer Feaman and another officer stole $400 from his car during a traffic stop.
When asked if disciplinary actions had ever been taken against Officer Feaman, Sgt. Keith Barrett, a spokesman for the department, said those records were closed. When asked if the department was concerned about the presence of multiple complaints against Feaman, Barrett said, “We investigate all complaints made against members of our department from external and internal sources; while taking the action steps required by department policy and those of local, state and federal law.”
An officer in St. Louis since 2003, Feaman attended the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Academy, where he was trained as an officer. The misconduct reports obtained by Campaign Zero only go back to 2010; it’s not clear if Feaman faced any allegations of misconduct from 2003 and 2009.
In the lawsuit, Wooten alleges that Feaman’s use of force against White was “inappropriate, unwarranted and unjustified," saying, “The underlying criminal allegations do not relate in any way to the use of deadly force..”
Summoned to a deposition for White’s lawsuit, Feaman declined to answer any questions. He also declined to answer whether he was invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, or explain why he was not answering, to the frustration of the lawyer questioning him.
In Feaman’s report summarizing the incident, Wooten notes, Feaman alleges that White was “blading his body...in a fighting stance,” with “fists clenched.” Furthermore, Feaman wrote, “Believing Jamal White was going to attack me...I attempted to stop his oncoming assault” by “attempting to strike Jamal White in the left shoulder.” Then he claims White stepped forward, causing the flashlight to hit his face.
Those claims do not match the bystander’s video, which shows White running away from Feaman. White neither blades his stance or clenches his fist while retreating. Instead, he appears to open his arms outward in a questioning gesture.
In the deposition, Wooten quotes Feaman’s claim that he was threatened, saying, “That too is a lie; isn’t that correct, Officer Feaman?” The deposition ends with Wooten asking Feaman, “Is it the policy and practice of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department to commonly use excessive force against young black males?”
Once again, the officer refused to answer.
“I don’t have anything further,” Wooten said.
Wooten filed a motion to have the federal lawsuit dismissed on June 29, 2018, but says he will re-file in state court. In his motion to dismiss the suit, Wooten said he would be making claims in state court instead “because the City of St. Louis appeared to abandon Defendant Adam Feaman individually at his deposition.”
This story was commissioned by freelancer Clark Randall on behalf of GRAM, the Grassroots Accountability Movement focused on policy, legislation and enforcement in city and state government and is being published by the RFT as a joint effort with the non-profit.
It is GRAM’s position that the absence of a department wide de-escalation policy and the failure of SLMPD officers’ to follow their “use of force” policies will continue to result in unnecessary risk of human life.