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Lawsuit seeks $40 million for victims of police abuse

By Dr. J.A. Salaam | Last updated: Sep 3, 2014 - 4:35:53 PM

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Atty. Malik Shabazz of Black Lawyers for Justice announced a class action lawsuit on behalf of the “Ferguson Five,” city residents and others who the attorney said were abused by police during protests and a law enforcement crackdown in Ferguson, Mo.

ST. LOUIS ( - Sweltering heat didn’t keep more than 50 people from gathering at the Eisenhower Federal Building for a press conference where Atty. Malik Shabazz of Black Lawyers for Justice announced a class action lawsuit on behalf of the “Ferguson Five,” city residents and others who the attorney said were abused by police during protests and a law enforcement crackdown in Ferguson, Mo., after the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown by a White police officer.

“We are here to deliver what we have promised. There have been many victims of rogue forces. There are people who have come forth and we call them the Ferguson Five. These are the first of many more that this case will represent,” Atty. Shabazz said Aug 29.

Tracey White, Dwayne Matthews, Damon Coleman, Theophilus Green and Kerry White are like others who were handled with brute force by Ferguson and St. Louis police during heated protests, said the lawyer. “We are here because the police are out of control and have used excessive force. We just want to say to Chief Thomas Jackson, justice will not sleep,” said Atty. Shabazz.

The civil case is seeking $40 million in damages from Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson, St. Louis Chief of Police Jon Belmar and a host of officers from Ferguson and the St. Louis police departments.

The press conference began at approximately 1:40 p.m. as the crowd patiently awaited arrival of the hard copies of the filing documents.

Attorney Shabazz came out the court building wearing dark shades, a nicely pressed gray suit and a red tie a completely different look from the Black militant look he is known for, when he marched on the front lines with demonstrators outraged by the Aug. 9 killing of the Black teenager.

The crowd began to chant, “No justice! No peace!” “Hands up! Don’t shoot” as he stepped in front of the cameras. Federal police formed a straight line across on the upper steps of the court building about 60 feet behind the lawyer and the crowd. 

“People of the jury, if you feel that the police of Ferguson and St. Louis County are unjust and have treated the people wrong, please raise your hands,” he said.

With no hesitation all present raised their hands in agreement.

“The $40 million in damages sought could go “higher; we intend on teaching them a painful economic lesson,” he said.

“My son and I attended a peace and love rally sponsored by the AME church of Ferguson. Afterward we walked to the McDonald’s to get something to drink and eat,” said plaintiff Tracey White.

The mother and son were waiting Aug. 13 for her husband to come pick them up. They purchased food and drink. Her son went to the bathroom. “While he was in there several police came in dressed like the army,” said Ms. White.

“They ordered me and other customers to get out,” she said. She didn’t want to leave without her 17-year-old son, who she saw being accosted by police. When she expressed concern about the mistreatment of her son, officers threw her to the floor and handcuffed her, according to Ms. White. As her son looked on she cried out to him to come get his I-Pad. When he attempted to get it, he was arrested, she continued. They were held for 5 hours and charged with “failure to disperse.”

“We did nothing wrong,” she said. They weren’t released until midnight.

“Ms. White is not a thug; she’d be considered a high class citizen and was treated like this,” said Atty. Shabazz.

Dwayne Matthews was going to his mother’s home in Ferguson to check on her. He rode the bus to make sure she was safe amid unrest in the city. Mr. Matthews said he was confronted by eight officers dressed in military gear. He raised his hands but says he was shot multiple times with rubber bullets.

Mr. Matthews said he fell down in water, had his head slammed on the concrete, and was held under water until he couldn’t breathe and felt like he was about to drown.

“They start calling me, nigga, mop head and coon,” said Mr. Matthews. He told reporters he was bleeding all over his body.

He was taken to Christian Hospital Northwest, but was released the next day, despite officers saying he was arrested for failure to disperse.

Damon Coleman and Theophilus Green were protesting Aug. 11 with others near a burned out convenience store.

They were peaceful, and seeing the arrival of St. Louis County officers dressed in riot gear nearby, raised their arms and began to chant, “Hands Up! Don’t Shoot!” Officers moved behind the non-violent protestors and “two military tank-like vehicles began to approach the group from the front,” according to the lawsuit.

Protestors were tear gassed as the two plaintiffs recorded events, said the complaint. Officers targeted the duo with rubber bullets, tear gas and what appeared to be stun grenades, said the lawsuit.

Kerry White said police took his camera, removed the memory card, then threw his camera down on the ground. The freelance photographer said he lost “images and shots I cannot replace.”

“I’ve been on the front line, controlling the crowds and now I’m in the courtroom defending the people who have been dealing with this type of treatment. I’m a fighter for justice,” said Mr. Shabazz, whose group is called Black Lawyers for Justice

“You’re asking for peace, but peace is predicated on justice,” he said.