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Indictment sparks hope for more charges on behalf of those arrested at protests by St. Louis police

Police officers form a line near Jefferson Avenue and Market Street. Dozens of people were arrested after blocking Interstate 64 in October 2017.
Rachel Lippmann I St. Louis Public Radio
Police officers form a line near Jefferson Avenue and Market Street. Dozens of people were arrested after blocking Interstate 64 in October 2017.

Lawyers and people who allege to have been victims of police misconduct during a series of protests in 2017 said they anticipate a federal grand jury indictment filed Thursday against four St. Louis police officers to lead to additional investigations.

The charges against three of the four officersinclude using excessive force during an arrest of an undercover officer. The officer was arrested during a night of protests related to the acquittal of former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley in September 2017. Allegations against all four officers also include obstructing justice.

ArchCity Defenders is one of the firms representing people who say police officers assaulted them during protests. Executive director Blake Strode said the criminal indictment handed down Thursday gives some credibility to his firm’s clients.

“It just adds a level of confirmation to what many people already know, but others have not themselves experienced and are less familiar with,” Strode said.

He said that he believes the indictment might lead to discussions about police culture and public safety policies.

More:St. Louis police officers charged with excessive force during Stockley protest arrest

Strode said the indictment could bring to light more charges, indictments, perpetrators and victims.

“We know from our own clients that we brought lawsuits on behalf of, that there were many people who were subject to that sort of abuse,” he said.

ArchCity Defenders represents at least a dozen people who filed civil suits against the city alleging police misconduct during the Stockley protests.

Former St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Michael Faulk also sued the City of St. Louis last year for damages related to his arrest while covering protests downtown. Faulk agreed that more federal investigations might uncover violations.

“It was just a really gruesome evening, and a lot of people’s rights were violated, and I’m sure if the feds continue to pursue this, there will be ample opportunity for more indictments,” he said.

More: What happened when: A day-by-day look at the 2017 Jason Stockley protests throughout the St. Louis region

U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Jensen’s office, which filed the charges against the four police officers, did not respond to questions about whether he might pursue additional charges on behalf of protestors and journalists who allege being assaulted during the 2017 demonstrations.

Jensen said in a written statement Thursday that the charges are serious and “the vigorous enforcement of civil rights is essential to maintaining public trust in law enforcement.”

The Ethical Society of Police, a organization that advocates for officers of color, issued a written statement Friday urging federal investigations to continue.

“It is our belief that any SLMPD officer engaged in blatant civil rights abuses or the cover-up of the same during the 2017 protests should face criminal indictments and termination,” the statement reads.

City officials who expressed disappointment in the accusations against the four police officers charged this week also said the indictments do not reflect on the character of the entire St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department.

Faulk, now no longer living and working in St. Louis, described the night of his arrest as traumatic.

“The thought of it still brings tears to my eyes every time,” he said. “But it needs to be talked about. It needs to not be forgotten.”

Follow Ashley on Twitter:@aadlisenby

Copyright 2021 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Ashley Lisenby is the race, identity and culture reporter at St. Louis Public Radio. She came to KWMU from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch where she was a general assignment reporter who mostly covered county municipal government issues. Before making the switch to radio, Ashley covered Illinois government for The Associated Press in Springfield, Illinois, and neighborhood goings-on at a weekly newspaper in a Chicago suburb. Ashley is a Chicago native (yes, the city not the suburbs). She has a master’s degree in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University.