Since the police shooting death of an unarmed 18-year-old black male in Ferguson, Missouri last week, the town of 21,000 people has become a focal point in the country’s discussion of excessive force and police misconduct. Within days of the shooting, lawyers announced that they were looking at civil rights claims related to the shooting death. Then, reports of clashes between police and protestors demanding answers began flooding social media.
Attempts to cover the story by news outlets have proven difficult. Yesterday, two reporters were arrested for allegedly trespassing in a McDonald’s restaurant. They were subsequently released without being charged after the police chief learned that they were from the media. Police fired tear gas at reporters stationed at a roadside with camera and lighting equipment. New Yorker reporter Jelani Cobb provides a detailed account of her observations.
Imminent civil rights lawsuits are almost certain. Based on the reports, it appears likely that Ferguson Police may be subject to litigation in cases alleging violations of the First, Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments, including allegations of excessive force, unreasonable search and seizure, unlawful arrest, and deprivation of free speech and the freedom of the press.
Joshua Newville is an attorney and mediator based in Minnesota. He litigates employment and civil rights cases, serves as a mediator for civil disputes, and provides employment law advice.