St. Louis police are facing a second lawsuit after a documentary team filed litigation Tuesday claiming police physically assaulted and arrested the filmmakers on false charges Sept. 17.
Drew and Jennifer Burbridge — married documentary filmmakers — were in St. Louis to document last week’s protests. The couple instead found themselves caught up in a “kettling” operation by St. Louis police on the night of Sept. 17, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
The Tuesday lawsuit comes just days after the American Civil Liberties Union filed its own suit on Friday.
Officers allegedly surrounded a large group of protesters and began progressively tightening the perimeter, eventually arresting more than 120 protesters and bystanders caught inside, including an undercover police officer, an Air Force officer, and the Burbridges.
The couple’s lawsuit claims police never issued a dispersal order and would not let them leave the protest even after explaining they were not actual participants. Police never charged the couple with a crime, despite being arrested.
“I turned my camera off and asked if there was anywhere I could go, but I was denied the right to leave. I didn’t want to be a part of this,” Burbridge said. “The only thing I cared about then was putting my arms around my wife. I just, I just kept saying: ‘It’s going to be OK.'”
Burbridge complied with police orders to get on the ground, the suit claims, before two officers approached and dragged him away, allegedly throwing him face first onto the ground. The lawsuit describes police restraining Burbridge with zip-ties while three officers kicked him in the back and hit him with batons, even after he was fully restrained. During the beating, Burbridge claims, one officer asked him, “Do you want to take my picture now, (expletive)?”
The lawsuit also claims police carried Burbridge to a van to be transported to jail. One officer allegedly told her, “Did you like that? Come back tomorrow and we can do this again.”
The lawsuit claims police refused to identify themselves to protesters and had removed any identifying information on their uniforms. Burbridge claims that when she asked for the name of one of the officers in the van she received a terse, “I’m Father Time.”
The Burbridges were hardly the only bystanders caught in the “kettling.” Another married couple had a nearly identical experience the same night. Lt. Alex Nelson, 27, is an Air Force officer who came out of his nearby home with his wife to witness the protest.
Police sprayed his face with chemicals, forced him to the ground and dragged him away. Nelson told reporters. Nelson was never charged with a crime.
“It’s our street,” he said. “I hear the police say it was their street, but it’s literally my street. I have coffee on that street, and I own property on that street. We were not active protesters. We were looking into the neighborhood to observe events that were unfolding.” (RELATED: Police Chant ‘Whose Streets, Our Streets!’ After Arresting Protesters)
“I’m very sad how they treated me and my wife through the escalation of violence they used on me. It was incredibly unnecessary. I’ve had training on how to arrest and be arrested, and I capitulated to every demand that was made of me, even before I was on the ground,” Nelson said. “We were told to move back, and we moved back. We were told to move this way, we moved this way. We obeyed every command that we heard. We were never given an order to disperse. Not once.”
Nelson and his wife are considering legal action, but have yet to file a lawsuit.
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