Ferguson Activists Earn Victory; Court Issues Temporary Restraining Order on Police Tear Gas Misuse


December 12, 2014

CONTACT: Victoria Wenger, 202.728.9557, vwenger@advancementproject.org

Ferguson Activists Claim Huge Victory; Court Issues Temporary Restraining Order against Police Misuse of Tear Gas, Other Chemical Agents

St. Louis, MO – Stating that Ferguson protesters have suffered “irreparable harm” due to police overreach during demonstrations, U.S. District Judge Carol Jackson issued a temporary restraining order late yesterday prohibiting police from using tear gas, smoke, pepper spray or other chemical agents against demonstrators without first giving a clear warning and a clear means of exit. The order further prohibits that tear gas can’t be used against protesters to punish or frighten them for exercising their First Amendment rights.

“We are pleased the court affirmed the important First Amendment rights of demonstrators to be out in the streets without undue fear of indiscriminate tear gas and other chemical agents,” said Thomas Harvey, Executive Director of Arch City Defenders, and one of the lawyers who presented witnesses to the Court yesterday.

In an emergency hearing Thursday, Judge Jackson heard compelling testimony from plaintiffs who have been subject to tear gas and other harm by police at demonstrations, including 20-year old Alexis Templeton, Co-founder of Millennial Activists United, Steven Hoffmann, a legal observer, and Kira Hudson Banks, a psychology professor at St. Louis University, who has volunteered her time as a mental health professional at demonstrations.

“The ruling sends a strong message that police acting under the Unified Command must respect the rights of protesters to demonstrate, and cannot use excessive tactics to curtail their message,” said Denise Lieberman, Senior Attorney with Advancement Project, and one of the lawyers who presented testimony to the Court yesterday.  “Police overreach was exactly what people were protesting in the first place.”

“The Court rightfully required police to give demonstrators fair warning and a means to escape tear gas and other chemical agents before dispensing them. The judge further made clear that tear gas can’t be used just as a form of crowd control or to frighten protesters,” said Brendan Roediger, a law professor with the St. Louis University Legal Clinic, and one of the lawyers who presented testimony to the court.  “This is basic and common-sense relief, but the evidence showed that police were not following those practices. “

“This is an important moment for the movement built in this community and spreading across the nation,” said Justin Hansford, an assistant professor of law at St. Louis University and a member of the Don’t Shoot Coalition. “Communities have a Constitutional right to demonstrate peacefully without fear of explicit aggression from the police. We are reassured by the judge’s decision to help protect the rights and safety of those organizing in our community. This sends a strong message to people here and across the country that tear gassing and assaulting peaceful demonstrators in the Unites States of America compromises our core values. The next step is holding police accountable for infringing on our vital human and constitutional rights."

In addition to issuing the temporary restraining order, the judge set the case for a preliminary injunction hearing on Jan. 6, 2015, to hear evidence on the substantive issues in the case.  Additional counsel who will be bringing the full lawsuit to the court include St. Louis University Law Professor Justin Hansford, King Downing, a lawyer specializing in police practices, and Nicole Lee, a lawyer with the Lee Bayard Group.

The case is Templeton et al v Dotson et al., Case No. 4:14-CV-2019.