Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

36 hours left in this Mid-Year Campaign. This is our hour of need.
If you value independent journalism, please support Common Dreams.

Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Without your help, we won’t survive.

A protesters holds up a sign against police brutality at a Ferguson support rally in Washington, D.C. (Photo: ep_jhu)

Ferguson Protesters File Lawsuit Against Police for Civil Rights Violations

Plaintiffs say police used 'excessive force' in arresting both protesters and bystanders

Nadia Prupis

Protesters in Ferguson, Missouri filed a $40 million federal lawsuit on Thursday alleging that police in the local and county departments violated civil rights and used excessive force to falsely arrest innocent bystanders in an attempt to crack down on the demonstrations that took place throughout the month.

The death of Michael Brown, a black teenager who was unarmed when he was shot to death by Officer Darren Wilson, who is white, sparked weeks of marches and demonstrations against police brutality and racism.

The five plaintiffs, including some who were not involved with the protests but encountered officers while eating out or walking home, said they were arrested violently, shot at with rubber bullets, and subjected to racial slurs.

"The police were completely out of control," said attorney Malik Shabazz of Black Lawyers for Justice. "In those initial days, it was virtually a police riot."

The lawsuit names Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar, Ferguson officer Justin Cosma, several unnamed officers collectively identified in the suit as “John Doe,” and the city and county governments.

Early days of the protests saw the police forces dressed in riot gear and shooting tear gas and rubber bullets into crowds of unarmed protesters. After days of unrest, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon put the State Highway Patrol in charge of securing Ferguson, which initially helped ease tensions. But police brutality returned to the protests after St. Louis County police were allowed back on the ground shortly after state troopers took over operations.

Talking Points Memo writes:

Plaintiff Tracey White said she and her son, a high school junior, were waiting for a ride from her husband at a West Florissant Avenue McDonald's after attending an Aug. 13 "peace and love" rally at a Ferguson church when several rifle-carrying officers told her she was being arrested because she would not "shut up." White said she and her son were detained for five hours at the county jail on charges of failing to disperse, but she said she was not provided with any records reflecting that charge or a future court date.

"It was so horrifying," she said. "We did nothing wrong."

Dwayne Anton Matthews Jr. said he was confronted by eight officers that same night while walking to his mother's home after the bus route he normally takes stopped short of his destination because of the unrest. The suit alleges that after Matthews was shot multiple times with rubber bullets, he fell into a creek or sewer, where police officers "pounced on him, slammed his face into the concrete and pushed his head under water to the point that he felt he was going to be drowned."

Matthews, who styles his hair in long dreadlocks, told reporters at a Thursday press conference outside the St. Louis federal courthouse that he was called a "coon" and a "mophead," among other racial slurs.

Hundreds were arrested in recent weeks, including protesters, reporters, lawyers, and community leaders. Wilson has not been arrested for Brown's death.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

Just a few days left in our crucial Mid-Year Campaign and we might not make it without your help.
Who funds our independent journalism? Readers like you who believe in our mission: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. No corporate advertisers. No billionaire founder. Our non-partisan, nonprofit media model has only one source of revenue: The people who read and value this work and our mission. That's it.
And the model is simple: If everyone just gives whatever amount they can afford and think is reasonable—$3, $9, $29, or more—we can continue. If not enough do, we go dark.

All the small gifts add up to something otherwise impossible. Please join us today. Donate to Common Dreams. This is crunch time. We need you now.

Naomi Klein: The US Is in the Midst of a 'Shock-and-Awe Judicial Coup'

"The rolling judicial coup coming from this court is by no means over," warned the author of "The Shock Doctrine."

Jake Johnson ·


Markey, Bowman Join Climate Coalition in Urging SCOTUS Expansion

"We cannot sit idly by," said Markey, "as extremists on the Supreme Court eviscerate the authorities that the government has had for decades to combat climate change and reduce pollution."

Brett Wilkins ·


Ocasio-Cortez Says US 'Witnessing a Judicial Coup in Process'

"It is our duty to check the Court's gross overreach of power in violating people's inalienable rights and seizing for itself the powers of Congress and the president."

Brett Wilkins ·


Critics Say Biden Drilling Bonanza 'Won't Lower Gas Prices' But 'Will Worsen Climate Crisis'

"President Biden's massive public lands giveaway in the face of utter climate catastrophe is just the latest sign that his climate commitments are mere rhetoric," said one campaigner.

Kenny Stancil ·


'Payoff for 40 Years of Dark Money': Supreme Court Delivers for Corporate America

"It was the conservative court's larger agenda to gut the regulatory state and decimate executive powers to protect Americans' health and safety," warned one expert.

Jake Johnson ·

Common Dreams Logo