St. Louis, MO – A federal jury has sided with law enforcement officers after a Ferguson protester filed a lawsuit alleging police used excessive force during his arrest in 2014.
The lawsuit was plaintiff Dwayne Matthews’ second unsuccessful attempt to sue St. Louis police, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
Matthews was one of 10 people who filed a $41.5 million lawsuit against the department in 2014, claiming that police violated their civil rights during the protests that followed the officer-involved shooting of Michael Brown on Aug. 9, 2014.
Hundreds of protesters were arrested in the violent and chaotic days after Brown’s death, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
Some threw bottles, rocks, and Molotov cocktails at police, while others fired off weapons, according to court documents.
Matthews claimed he was just walking to his mother’s home on Aug. 13, 2014, when police swooped in and shot him with rubber bullets.
He said they proceeded to spray him with pepper spray, then nearly drowned him in a drainage ditch.
Afterwards, the officers allegedly beat him before they ultimately placed him in handcuffs, according to the lawsuit.
U.S. District Court Judge Henry Autrey dismissed the suit in 2016, and declared that the plaintiffs had “completely failed to present any credible evidence that any of the actions taken by [the law enforcement officers] were taken with malice or were committed in bad faith,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
Autrey noted that police ordered the protesters to disperse, but they refused.
The officers also issued multiple warnings before they followed through with their supervisors’ instructions to begin making arrests, the judge wrote in the 146-page ruling.
According to police, Matthews continued to run towards them after repeatedly being told to stop, Autrey said.
The officers ultimately fired a less-lethal shotgun at Matthews, which caused him to “stumble and fall into a culvert that had water in it,” the decision read.
After the officers climbed into the culvert to get Matthews out, he began fighting with them, police said.
Despite multiple warnings, he refused to stop resisting arrest, and was therefore pepper-sprayed.
None of the officers ever struck Matthews, cell phone footage showed.
Although Matthews said he was punched repeatedly and claimed to have suffered a “fractured” leg during the altercation, x-rays and CT scans taken at the hospital immediately after the incident indicated that everything was “normal.”
“Matthews agreed that he was not admitted to the hospital overnight,” Autrey noted.
“Patient states that he was walking through the area and was told to evacuate by police,” a paramedic said, according to the judge. “Patient admits that he did not immediately evacuate, was shot with rubber bullets and tear gas.”
Matthews told the court that the paramedic had lied about what he had really told him.
“Although Matthews claims he was subjected to a ‘gruesome’ beating by 5 or 6 officers, his own statements belie his position,” Autrey wrote.
But in August of 2017, the 8th U.S. Court of Appeals determined that Autrey should not have dismissed Matthew’s claims because they would have constituted excessive force if proven, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
The seven-member jury handed down the verdict in favor of the law enforcement officers on Friday, according to KTVI.
“We’re very gratified by the verdict,” the officers’ attorney, Michael Hughes, told the news outlet. “We very much appreciate the efforts of the jury and we’re very proud of our police officers. You know, I think the jury was too.”
Matthews’ attorney, Reginald Greene, said that his client might have had a more favorable outcome if there had been at least one African American person on the jury.
“I think they had a perfect opportunity to do the right thing and they didn’t take it,” Greene argued. “The police overreacted. This guy was an innocent bystander. He was treated as though he was an agitator and he wasn’t.”
The jury could have awarded up to $400 million, KTVI reported.