After a full week of standoffs between law enforcement and demonstrators in Ferguson, Missouri, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed two lawsuits against the local police department.
Thursday, the ACLU of Missouri sued St. Louis County and county police in order to obtain initial reports about the deadly shooting that took the life of 18-year-old Michael Brown. The County’s police department rejected an earlier open records request for the documents on Wednesday. The second suit, filed Friday morning, sought to keep St. Louis County, the town of Ferguson, and Highway Patrol Superintendent Ronald Replogle from barring media coverage. The ACLU filed the federal suit along with plaintiff Mustafa Hussein, a journalist with the Argus Media Group.
In a letter addressed to Ferguson Chief of Police, Thomas Jackson, the ACLU of Missouri took issue with the Department’s “direct attack on protected expressive activity.” The organization quoted excerpts of the Supreme Court’s recent decision in McCullen v. Coakley in addressing the St. Louis Police Department’s suppression of media coverage in Ferguson. “We acknowledge that limiting protests to daylight hours and demanding a ‘respectful manner’ might make your job easier,” a statement to the Chief of Police stated, “‘[b]ut that is not enough to satisfy the First Amendment. …[T]he prime objective of the First Amendment is not efficiency.”
Friday, the ACLU of Missouri successfully reached an agreement over media coverage with the three parties in a Missouri U.S. District Court. The agreement holds that “media and members of the public have a right to record public events without abridgement” unless there is a justified threat of danger or physical interference.
Following two days under mandatory curfew, Governor Jay Nixon is calling on the Missouri National Guard to “help restore peace and order” according to a news release issued by the Governor’s office this morning. “Tonight, a day of hope, prayers, and peaceful protests was marred by the violent criminal acts of an organized and growing number of individuals, many from the outside community and state, whose actions are putting the residents and businesses of Ferguson at risk,” Gov. Nixon said in a brief statement. “I join the people of Ferguson, and all Missourians, in strongly condemning this criminal activity that included firing upon law enforcement officers, shooting a civilian, throwing Molotov cocktails, looting, and a coordinated attempt to block roads and overrun the Unified Command Center.”
The Governor’s Executive Order came just as the public learned the details of a preliminary autopsy conducted by former New York City medical examiner, Dr. Michael Baden. This morning, Dr. Baden shared that the unarmed teenager was shot at least six times by Darren Wilson, the officer who killed Michael Brown. The U.S. Department of Justice announced it also intends to conduct an autopsy.
Attorney General Eric Holder is scheduled to meet with President Barack Obama to address the ongoing situation in Ferguson.
Media Resources: St. Louis Post-Dispatch 8/14/14; ACLU-Missouri 8/13/14, 8/15/14; Office of Missouri Governor Jay Nixon 8/18/14; US Department of Justice 8/17/14