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Byers' Beat: St. Louis County quietly settled lawsuit with former State Rep. Bruce Franks

The protester-turned-political-star from Ferguson signed the settlement agreement 10 days before he abruptly resigned from the state legislature.

ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — St. Louis County quietly settled a lawsuit with former Missouri Rep. Bruce Franks for $50,000 and required him to remove all of the social media posts he made of a video of his arrest in 2014.

It stemmed from a clash between police in St. Louis County with protesters on Christmas Eve in 2014.

In his lawsuit, Franks alleged St. Louis County officers assaulted him, leaving him with “severe and permanent injuries including blunt force trauma to his head and face, bruises, contusions, abrasions and lacerations to his head, face and body, a concussion, a torn rotator cuff, muscular sprain, migraine headaches, weakness, stiffness, soreness, pain of the mind as well as of the body, fear apprehension, depression and consternation.”

Franks was arrested outside a Mobil station in Berkeley during protests that erupted following the police shooting of a teen nearby.

He was working as a member of the Peacekeepers, a grassroots group that sprung up following the Ferguson protests of civilians who wanted to keep the peace between police and protesters.

He posted body camera footage of his arrest on his social media and the footage was shared and covered by local media outlets during the months of unrest following the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson.

I came across the settlement agreement as part of a records request I made while researching settlements St. Louis County has reached with various people who have accused police officers of brutality in recent years.

Even though Franks’ settlement is a confidential agreement, government entities must release settlement agreements that involve public dollars.

The parties just can’t talk about the agreements publicly.

Franks signed the settlement agreement on May 6, 2019, and the check was to be delivered to his attorneys with ArchCity Defenders two weeks after that.

Ten days after Franks signed the agreement, he resigned as a state representative citing mental health struggles connected to the deaths of his godson and best friend.  

In 2020, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences announced that a documentary about Franks’ rise to the Missouri House of Representatives from the streets of Ferguson as a protester had been nominated for an Academy Award. The 25-minute film, "St. Louis Superman," was nominated for a Best Documentary Short Subject Oscar.

The settlement agreement dismisses all individual officers named in it with prejudice. It reads:

This settlement is the compromise of a disputed claim; that was worked out in mediation, that there is absolutely no admission of wrongdoing by St. Louis County police officers, St. Louis County and that the alleged wrongdoing is strongly denied and which plaintiff and his attorneys acknowledge that it is denied and disputed and further acknowledge that this is not only a disputed claim but that summary judgement is a possibility and that a trial could result in a defense verdict, and that the payment is not to be construed as an admission of liability on the part of the release parties, or any St. Louis County police officer, if any, and it is acknowledged that the released parties expressly deny wrongdoing, and expressly deny liability, but intend merely to avoid litigation and its costs and buy the peace for all concerned.

In other words, the county agreed to pay the money to avoid a trial even though it could have ended in its favor – and the money should not be interpreted as an admission of wrongdoing.

As a condition of the agreement, Franks also agreed to "immediately delete from any internet links, web sites, and social media sites, including Twitter, the edited video that Mr. Franks has already placed on social media and which is presently on his Twitter account, and possibly other sites controlled by plaintiff.”

As for how hushed the agreement was to be, it states: “The terms of this settlement, the amount of this settlement, shall be and remain as confidential as possible.”

Three years later, taxpayers now know about it. 

Byers' Beat is a weekly column written by the I-Team's Christine Byers, who has covered public safety in St. Louis for 15 years. It is intended to offer context and analysis to the week's biggest crime stories and public safety issues.

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