News Law and Policy

ACLU of Missouri Files Two Lawsuits Against Ferguson Police Department

Jessica Mason Pieklo

The lawsuits seek the full incident report from the Michael Brown shooting and an order preventing the Ferguson, Missouri, police department from blocking citizens and the media from filming police activities.

Read more of our coverage related to recent events in Ferguson here.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri filed two lawsuits against the Ferguson, Missouri, police department Thursday, one requesting the incident report related to the police shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed Black teenager, and another challenging the police policy of demeaning and ordering members of the media to stop recording police activities.

The lawsuits followed days of protests by citizens and a violent police response in the St. Louis suburb after a police officer shot and killed 18-year old Michael Brown on Saturday, August 9, and the department refused to identify the officer responsible for the shooting for nearly a week. On Friday, Police Chief Thomas Jackson named Darren Wilson as the officer who shot and killed Brown, saying Wilson is a six-year veteran of the department with no prior disciplinary record.

The first lawsuit, seeking the Ferguson Police Department’s full report on the police shooting, claims the department’s refusal to release the officer’s name right away and other details of the event violates Missouri’s Sunshine Law, a state law designed to promote transparency and accountability in government affairs.

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The second lawsuit asks the court to block the Ferguson Police Department’s policy of demanding and ordering members of the media and the public to stop recording the police acting in their official duty on public streets and sidewalks, specifically in response to community protests following Brown’s death. According to the complaint, “[D]efendants’ response to the demonstrations has been controversial, including using force, ordering peaceful protestors to disband and evacuate the streets and sidewalks, and ordering protestors and observers to stop documenting and videotaping the demonstrations.” The complaint continues, “[T]here is widespread interest in Defendants’ tactics, which raise questions about whether a military response to the protest is consistent with the values of the United States.”

The actions by the Ferguson police have drawn national condemnation, including from President Obama. Following widespread complaints, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon stripped local police of their authority over the protests and placed state highway patrol in charge. State Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson, a Black man who grew up in the area, took control of the law enforcement response and, according to reports, the change in leadership and approach was met with relief and appreciation by the community. Johnson marched alongside protesters Thursday, a marked change from county police in armored tanks shooting tear gas at protesters.

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