A Black Lives Matter protester was billed $57,000 for the legal defense of cop who wrongfully arrested her

A Black Lives Matter protester was billed $57,000 for the legal defense of cop who wrongfully arrested her
A Black Lives matter demonstration in New York City in 2014, Wikimedia Commons
Human Rights

Disturbing video taken six years ago shows a Black woman walking to her car while St. Louis police officers, in a state of panic, attempt to disband the few protesters pictured in the footage. "Get back!" one officer is shown yelling. "Grab anybody. They're all in the street!" someone else yells. Within seconds, an officer approaches the woman, Kristine "Kris" Hendrix, and a Black man also walking nearby, then uses a Taser on them both. Hendrix sued two officers involved in the encounter according to a lawsuit the St. Louis Post-Dispatch obtained. She was awarded $3,500 in damages due to the actions of officer Stephen Ogunjobi; the other officer, Louis Wilson, was cleared, the nonprofit news organization the Missouri Independent reported.

Now, that officer is trying to force Hendrix to pay $57,000 in legal fees stemming from her suit.

The 2007 law that gave the city the right to seek such fees is brought to you by—shocker—a Republican legislator. Former Sen. Jack Goodman, who's now an appellate judge, advocated for a firearms bill that included in its language a provision giving law enforcement officers who use "justified force" an "absolute defense against criminal prosecution or civil liability," as St. Louis Public Radio describes the law.

"The court shall award attorney's fees, court costs, and all reasonable expenses incurred by the defendant in defense of any civil action brought by the plaintiff if the court finds that the defendant has an absolute defense," lawmakers stated in the bill.

A circuit court judge still denied the city's request seeking fees from Hendrix last year, citing the city's decision to seek the fees some three years after the case was filed. The city again brought the issue before the Missouri Court of Appeals in the Eastern District on Tuesday, the Missouri Independent reported. And in that process, attorneys ended up hashing out elements of the original case. "The trial court improperly speculated that the Taser cycles could have been motivated by malice or ill will," said Erin McGowan, an attorney for the city who also represented one of the officers in the initial suit.

Hendrix's attorneys responded by explaining that "malice can be inferred from continuing to use a Taser at maximum capacity while a woman is lying on the ground screaming."

In court, the city attorney also argued that officers saw Hendrix with a "closed fist" just before she was shocked with a Taser. Maureen Hanlon, one of Hendrix's attorneys, told the Missouri Independent hearing the city defend the officer's action is not easy. "The force used was egregious, and a jury agreed," Hanlon said. "It is hard for Ms. Hendrix to sit and hear the city's continued defense of this force that was very traumatizing for her."

Attorneys stated in her initial lawsuit:

It is clear from the video and from Officer Wilson's testimony that he and Officer Ogunjobi approached Ms. Hendrix from behind. . . . [T]he "pop" sound of Officer Ogunjobi's taser clearly can be heard as he applies it to Ms. Hendrix for the first time. Within a couple of seconds of that Ms. Hendrix can be heard saying "Oh myGod, oh my God, oh my God. Why did you do that? I wasn't doing anything?" An officer can be heard saying "Put your hands behind your back," but before he even finishes the sentence the sound of Officer Ogunjobi administering another cycle of tasing to Ms. Hendrix can be heard, and she screams. In response to the officer's command, she then can be heard saying five times in succession "I can't it hurts! I can't it hurts!" then "It hurts so bad, please, please stop." She repeats this several more times, then Officer Ogunjobi tases her a third time. Again, Ms. Hendrix screams, then says, "Oh my God, why are you doing this, I'm on the ground."

Exhibit A, Judgment, City of St. Louis v. Hendrix, et al., 1622-CR03662, 9.

Ms. Hendrix was being electrified almost continuously before the officers handcuffed her. This Court believes Ms. Hendrix [sic] testimony—which is bolstered by the audio from the video recording—that she could not comply withOfficer Wilson's command that she put her arms behind her back. The Court finds this to be so because for much of the time she was on the sidewalk one arm was pinned under her, she was being tased repeatedly in quick succession, and between the tasings she was telling the officers repeatedly that "I can't! It hurts!"

Warning: This video includes violent footage of police using a Taser that may be triggering for some viewers.

#STL Metro PD tazing protesters May 29, 2015 www.youtube.com

"We understand that with acts of civil disobedience, there can be consequences," Hendrix said in a phone interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch a few days after her arrest. "However, we just assume that with well-trained police staff, those consequences don't necessarily have to be Tasering or shooting or even arresting people—because, what a waste of time and energy when there are people being murdered at alarming rates in our city."

Hendrix also told the newspaper she isn't taking up the issue for herself. "This is about everyone who has been treated unjustly by our so-called justice system," she said. "We need to look at the pattern, not just individual people." Seven other protesters were arrested the same day as Hendrix on suspicion of impeding the flow of traffic. Along with Hendrix, one of the other protesters also picked up the added charge of resisting arrest.

Hendrix was later acquitted on Dec. 1, 2016, when Circuit Judge Nicole Colbert-Botchway concluded that "evidence presented in this case does not establish that Ms. Hendrix was ever given an opportunity to comply before she was tased repeatedly and then handcuffed."

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