Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

St. Louis Police Say Their Protest Response Lawful and Appropriate

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

St. Louis Police Say Their Protest Response Lawful and Appropriate

Article excerpt

ST. LOUIS * During the second day of federal court testimony over recent police actions during protests, police officials on Thursday denied violating the rights of protesters or others, and said that their orders to disperse "unlawful assemblies" were legal and proper.

The wide-ranging hearing covered events on multiple days that followed the not-guilty verdict on Sept. 15 in the murder trial of a former St. Louis police officer, Jason Stockley.

The hearing is on a request for a preliminary injunction regulating police activity before a lawsuit filed last month by the ACLU is heard.

On Thursday, lawyers attempted to address a series of questions upon which the case will turn: What is an unlawful assembly and who can declare it? When does a protest in the street become illegal enough to act on? If police order a crowd of protesters and others to disperse, does that order apply to everyone, or just those believed to be committing illegal activity? Might the others think that the orders don't apply to them? And how far away and for how long must people disperse?

The nearly five hours of testimony began with St. Louis police Lt. Timothy Sachs, commander of the tactical operations division, as well as Sgt. Matthew Karnowski with the bicycle response team and Sgt. Brian Rossomanno, supervisor in its civil disobedience unit.

Sachs said he suggested the mass arrest of more than 120 people at the intersection of Washington Avenue and Tucker Boulevard on Sept. 17, and that his plan was approved by the incident commander, Lt. Col. Gerald Leyshock. The crowd was given multiple warnings to disperse and told they could be arrested or subject to chemical munitions, Sachs said.

Among those arrested were protesters, an Air Force lieutenant and his wife who lived nearby, a photojournalist for Getty Images, and Post-Dispatch reporter Mike Faulk, who was assigned to cover the protest.

Sachs said he didn't have information on an undercover officer who was purportedly arrested with the others.

Rossomanno demurred several times when asked about that arrest, then said that it occurred elsewhere and long before the mass arrest, after the officer was mistaken for a protester. Asked if the officer had been beaten by police, Rossomanno said that he was not, then said, "I heard there was some sort of resisting involved."

Sachs said that the final order to disperse came at 11:01 p.m., and the officers gradually closed all streets leading to the intersection, with the final exit closed about 11:25 p.m.

Sachs said the arrests were justified because some people were blocking the street and all had refused police orders to disperse.

Police were also trying to prevent people from doing any more damage to downtown areas, both he and Rossomanno said. Windows and large ornamental flower pots were broken several hours before the arrests in an area several blocks to the east. …

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