A federal judge on Wednesday issued wide-ranging restrictions on the ability of St. Louis police to declare protests unlawful and to use chemical agents against protesters, says the city’s Post-Dispatch. U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry’s 49-page order says that police can’t declare an unlawful assembly and enforce it against those “engaged in expressive activity, unless the persons are acting in concert to pose an imminent threat to use force or violence or to violate a criminal law with force or violence.” Police also can’t use that unlawful assembly order or threaten the use of pepper spray and other chemical agents to punish protesters for exercising their rights, she wrote. The ruling came as part of an ACLU lawsuit over police strategies during protests in St. Louis in September after white former police officer Jason Stockley was acquitted in the 2011 shooting death of black driver Anthony Lamar Smith.
A mayoral spokesman said the city would comply with the order. Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, asked the region’s federal prosecutor to launch an investigation into the “alleged unconstitutional practices” by St. Louis police. Judge Perry said that based on the evidence presented so far, the ACLU was likely to succeed in its underlying lawsuit over police practices. She faulted police use of mace against nonviolent protesters and those recording police activity, and said police had improperly declared an unlawful assembly on some occasions and then gave protesters and others unreasonable and vague dispersal orders. She said a controversial police “kettle” that confined protesters on Sept. 17 “cannot meet constitutional standards.”