Judge Rules Police Violated Ferguson Protesters' Rights

by | October 7, 2014 AT 11:00 AM

By Lauren Raab

Officers in Ferguson, Mo., violated the Constitution by requiring peaceful protesters to keep moving rather than stand still during demonstrations that followed the Aug. 9 police shooting of an unarmed man, a federal judge said Monday.

U.S. District Judge Catherine D. Perry issued a preliminary injunction ordering Ferguson authorities not to adopt such a policy again. Perry emphasized that police are free to place reasonable restrictions on protests and "to use the full range of lawful means" to control and disperse crowds and to protect people from violence and vandalism.

The ruling stems from a lawsuit brought by Mustafa Abdullah, an ACLU worker, against St. Louis County and the superintendent of the Missouri Highway Patrol.

Tensions flared this summer in the St. Louis suburb after Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson fatally shot Michael Brown. Ensuing protests were largely peaceful, but included instances of violence, looting and vandalism. The police response in the first several days included riot gear, military equipment, tear gas and rubber bullets.

At issue in the lawsuit is a strategy police adopted Aug. 18: telling protesters they could not stand still on sidewalks. According to the injunction, Abdullah testified that when he went to speak to protesters about their rights, police said he could talk while walking and told him repeatedly to keep moving or be arrested.

Some officers have told protesters they could not stand still for more than five seconds. Others, the injunction says, told people that they weren't walking quickly enough, "or that they could not walk back and forth in a small area." Police were applying the keep-moving policy as recently as Sept. 27, the injunction says.

Perry said she was issuing the injunction "because it is likely that these agencies will again apply this unconstitutional policy to [Abdullah] and the peaceful protesters he wishes to meet with."

The tensions in Ferguson remain palpable. Some residents have begun wearing cameras to record police behavior, and suspicions of a leak surround the grand jury that is deciding whether to indict Wilson, the officer who killed Brown.

(c)2014 the Los Angeles Times