ST. LOUIS — Seven dozen people who accused St. Louis police of violating their rights following downtown protests in 2017 are now picking up their settlement checks. The city agreed to pay the plaintiffs nearly $5 million. The protests followed the acquittal of former police officer Jason Stockley.
People who were around at that time won’t soon forget the protests, chaos, and violence that occurred after the officer who fatally shot Anthony Lamar Smith was cleared of murder charges. When protests broke out, activists said, police violated their civil rights.
"I was told that everyone was under arrest and to get on the sidewalk,” said Nicole Warrington, who had never been arrested before.
She was there to document how police were interacting with activists, Warrington said. Her charge was later dropped.
The memories of what she says happened that night are crystal clear.
"The sound of the batons. There were officers lining wall to wall…,” Warrington said. "The batons were just beating, and the officers were all saying in unison, ‘Move back. Move back.' I think I will always remember the sound of all of those batons hitting the ground. They were pushing us all into the center of the intersection, so there's no way to get out."
"Once we saw the videos, we knew that what the police did was wrong,” attorney Javad Khazaeli said.
Khazaeli sued the city on their behalf.
"At first we filed 12 different lawsuits for 14 different people, and slowly, we started realizing there were close to 100 people. So, we turned this into a class action [lawsuit]."
In the settlement agreement, the city denied any wrongdoing:
"Neither this Settlement Agreement, nor any of its terms and provisions, nor any of the negotiations connected with it, shall be construed as an admission or concession by the Defendant City, or any current, former, or future employee, agent, or officer of Defendant City, of any legal violations, any legal requirements, or any failure to comply with any applicable law.”
Friday, 5 On Your Side was there as some of the 84 people who filed suit came to pick up their checks.
"I would hope that moving forward, people are allowed to use their voices as we’re supposed to be able to do here— as citizens. There needs to be some basic protection of our rights and basic recognition of each other's humanity,” Warrington said.
Each plaintiff is receiving an average of $43,000 after attorney fees.
Before the settlement, the city told 5 On Your Side it would not comment on pending litigation. Now that the case is settled, a spokesperson said the city's stance, cited in that settlement agreement, still stands.