(Reuters) - A civil liberties group sued the city of St. Louis on Friday, alleging police misconduct against demonstrators protesting the acquittal of a white former officer in the killing of a black man.
The civil rights lawsuit was filed in U.S. district court in St. Louis by the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri. It names Maleeha Ahmad, Alison Dreith and “a class of similarly situated individuals” as plaintiffs.
“Everyone deserves the same rights as I do. I just want peace and justice,” Ahmad said in an ACLU of Missouri statement.
The statement said Ahmad was pepper sprayed by police without warning.
“Unfortunately, we are seeing a lack of respect on First Amendment rights,” said ACLU of Missouri executive director Jeffrey Mittman in a phone interview, referring to the constitutional guarantee that protects freedom of speech.
The lawsuit asked the court for an order requiring St. Louis not to arbitrarily declare assemblies unlawful and order protesters to disperse.
“The mayor has not personally seen the lawsuit yet, and we are not commenting on pending litigation,” Koran Addo, Mayor Lyda Krewson’s spokesman, said in an email.
The protests were in response to a judge’s decision on Sept. 15 that found former officer Jason Stockley, 36, not guilty of first-degree murder in the killing of Anthony Lamar Smith, 24.
“A common theme of the protests has been that, in the view of the protesters, the verdict reflected institutional racism and unwarranted bias in favor of law enforcement officers,” the lawsuit said.
The protesters committed no crime and posed no threat to the safety of police or others, the lawsuit said.
The city retaliated against people engaging in activities protected by the First Amendment, interfered with the right to record police officers in public places, unreasonably seized them and used excessive force, the lawsuit said.
“The City of St. Louis has a custom or policy of retaliating against protesters expressing disapproval of the actions of law enforcement officers, and has done so on occasions before these particular protests, including in 2014,” the ACLU of Missouri lawyers said in the lawsuit.
The 2014 shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, by a white police officer in nearby Ferguson, touched off riots and fueled the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Reporting by Suzannah Gonzales; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Rosalba O'Brien