Joe Harris

After Days of Unrest, Calm Returns to Streets of Ferguson

Protestors in Ferguson enjoyed a festive atmosphere Thursday night on streets that were covered with spent tear gas canisters and rubber bullets the night before. Gov. Jay Nixon intervened Thursday afternoon, relieving St. Louis County Police from security and replacing them with the Missouri Highway Patrol. The change brought a more relaxed approach from police. Instead of closing roads and confronting protesters with automatic weapons and armored cars, a handful of police officers—all of them African American—mingled with the crowds.

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Tension Escalates After Police Kill Unarmed Teenager in Ferguson, MO

Police fired tear gas into a crowd of protestors as tensions flared for a second day in a St. Louis suburb torn by violence after a police officer killed an unarmed teenager.

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Insane Case of Mistaken Identity: Woman Arrested, Told She Is Actually Dead, Held Anyway

ST. LOUIS (CN) - St. Louis police falsely arrested a woman, claiming she was someone who was already dead, and continued to hold her in jail and give her the runaround after acknowledging that the warrant was for a dead person, the woman claims in court.
     Shannon Renee McNeal sued the St. Louis Division of Corrections, the City of St. Louis, all of the members of the St. Louis City Police Board, St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson, several police officers and St. Louis Circuit Clerk Jane Schweitzer, on Monday in Federal Court.
     McNeal claims she was arrested by a Ferguson police officer on Aug. 6, 2009 during a routine traffic stop. The officer told her she had an outstanding warrant in St. Louis.
     Despite saying the warrant was not for her and begging the officer not to arrest her in front of her children who were screaming and crying in her car, McNeal says, she was arrested on a drug possession charge that carried a $20,000 bond.
     The warrant was actually for Shannon Raquel McNeal, who was 13 years younger than the plaintiff and who had been murdered three months before the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department issued a warrant for her, the lawsuit states.
     "The Ferguson booking officer acknowledged that plaintiff's fingerprints did not match but plaintiff was told that she would have to have the SLMPD sort it out since they were the entity that issued the warrant for her arrest," the complaint states.
     McNeal was transferred to the St. Louis Justice Center the next day.
     "Plaintiff was again fingerprinted by SLMPD Doe Defendant #4, but her fingerprints came up as 'No Match,'" the complaint states.
     "Plaintiff told SLMPD Doe Defendant #4 that she had been arrested by mistake.
     "Plaintiff went to pre-trial and spoke with SLMPD Doe Defendant #5.
     "SLMPD Doe Defendant #5 looked up information on an SLMPD computer and
     told plaintiff, 'This is not you.'
     "SLMPD Doe Defendant #5 informed plaintiff that she would have to go before a judge and the judge would release her."
     Despite that acknowledgment, McNeal says, the defendants continued to detain her and process her as Shannon Raquel McNeal.
     "The SLMPD transferred plaintiff to the custody of the City Division of Corrections," the complaint states.
     "During that transfer, plaintiff was assigned a Division of Corrections Caseworker,
     Corrections Doe Defendant # 1.
     "During her encounter with Corrections Doe Defendant # 1, the caseworker pulled up photos of proper defendant Shannon Raquel McNeal and concluded that those were not photos of plaintiff.
     "However, Corrections Doe Defendant # 1 told plaintiff that she would need to get
     an attorney or 'call down to the prosecutors.'
     "Then, plaintiff was told she had to go to the Division of Corrections' Workhouse.
     "Plaintiff was forced to strip and put on an orange prison jumpsuit.
     "Plaintiff was then forced to shower and be sprayed with pesticides by Corrections
     Doe Defendants #2 and #3.
     "The pesticides burned Plaintiff's stomach and back.
     "Plaintiff's doctors have told her that her skin cannot be repaired.
     "Plaintiff was incarcerated for several days as she was unable to retain an attorney.
     "Plaintiff never went before a judge.
     "On or about August 7, 2009, St. Louis Circuit Judge Thomas Frawley ordered plaintiff immediately released.
     "Judge Frawley indicated on his Order that the proper defendant, Shannon Raquel
     McNeal was deceased.
     "On August 8, 2009 plaintiff was released from custody."
     Aside from the burns, McNeal claims she lost her job as a bus driver for several months and had to pay to expunge the record to clear her name. McNeal says that searches in some public databases still attach the felony to her and that she suffers from high blood pressure as a result.
     McNeal seeks punitive damages for false arrest and imprisonment and violations of her Fourth Amendment rights. She also wants the defendants ordered to develop and implement adequate training programs for its officers and employees about citizen's rights under the Fourth Amendment.
     McNeal is represented by James O. Hacking III.
     The lawsuit is yet another that claims the SLMPD arrested and held the wrong person.
     Earlier this year, St. Louis paid $62,500 to settle a federal lawsuit filed by Travis S. Jones, who was mistakenly held for more than two months. Jones claimed that he was arrested and jailed even though the man authorities were actually looking for was already incarcerated.
     Cedric Wright, who also is represented by Hacking, has another lawsuit against the defendants pending in Federal Court. Wright claims he spent more than eight weeks in jail on charges against another man.
     The St. Louis Post-Dispatch conducted an investigation in 2013 that found about 100 people had been mistakenly arrested in recent years and collectively spent at least 2,000 days in jail. St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce and other city officials dispute the paper's findings. 

Pepper Sprayed Hookah Smoker to Get His Day in Court

ST. LOUIS (CN) - The 8th Circuit revived a retaliation claim from a hookah smoker who says he was pepper-sprayed and arrested for trying to learn an officer's badge number.
     Robert Peterson claims that he and a friend were waiting for a bus in downtown St. Paul on April 25, 2011, when three men inquired about the hookah pipe sticking out of his backpack. Peterson says he and his friend agreed to wait for a later bus and smoke the hookah with their new acquaintances at the bus stop.
     Michael Kopp, a public transit officer, observed the five smoking the hookah and asked them which bus they were taking. Since the busses they cited had already gone, Kopp ordered the five to leave.
     Peterson remained sitting on the bicycle lockers at the bus stop to dismantle the hookah. He says he chided Kopp for being rude since he was in the process of leaving, then asked the officer for his badge number. Kopp allegedly said Peterson had no right to know his badge number.
     When Peterson responded, "I have every right," Kopp allegedly grabbed Peterson's arm, pulled him off of the bicycle lockers and pepper-sprayed him in the face for two seconds. Peterson says Kopp then pushed him into the bicycle lockers, handcuffed him and placed him in the squad car. Kopp did not tell Peterson that he was under arrest until after he was placed in the car.
     Peterson was cited for misdemeanor trespass. He sued Kopp and the Metropolitan Council for violations of his civil rights, but a federal judge granted the defendants summary judgment, finding Kopp had qualified immunity.
     A three-judge panel with the 8th Circuit revived Peterson's First Amendment retaliatory use-of-force claim Wednesday.
     "The defendants justify the use of pepper spray by arguing that 'Peterson's defiance inspired the other young men present to surround Kopp,'" Judge Jane Kelly wrote for the court. "We note first that there is a factual dispute about whether the others returned to the bus stop. Peterson's testimony is that they stayed 6-8 feet away, not participating in his interaction with Kopp. Moreover, Kopp did not pepper spray any of the other individuals-either before they left or after they allegedly returned. One of the other men argued with Kopp before leaving the bus stop, claiming he did not have to leave as it was public property. Yet Kopp did not pepper spray him for this 'defiance,' even though the surrounding circumstances were the same: he had been told to leave, had not done so, and other individuals were close by during the interaction (in fact closer, because Peterson was still sitting on the bicycle lockers during that conversation). A reasonable jury could conclude, based on this account, that Kopp pepper sprayed Peterson in retaliation for asking for his badge number, and Peterson's First Amendment right was clearly established at the time of the incident. Accordingly, Kopp is not entitled to summary judgment based on qualified immunity from Peterson's retaliatory use of force claim."
     Summary judgment for the defendants was proper, however, on the unlawful arrest claim, "based on Peterson's nonverbal conduct."
     "Kopp asked Peterson and the others to leave the bus stop," Kelly wrote. "Yet Peterson remained seated on the bicycle lockers until Kopp ultimately pulled him down. He never made a move to stand up, even during the time Kopp spent talking with one of the other men. Peterson states that he was disassembling his hookah, a process that takes about a minute. Nothing in the record suggests that Kopp knew how long this process should take; in his deposition Kopp explained he did not know hookahs could be disassembled until Peterson began doing so. Peterson also admits he stopped the disassembly process to take out his cell phone. Peterson states that Kopp 'should have known that Mr. Peterson was not playing with his phone but was simply using his phone to make a memo or record Officer Kopp's badge number.' However, this discounts the other surrounding circumstances: Peterson never moved to get off the lockers, remained seated during Kopp's conversation with the other individual, was still manipulating his hookah after the conversation ended, and then stopped disassembling it and pulled out a phone. Even if Kopp lacked probable cause, it was objectively reasonable for Kopp to interpret Peterson's actions as a refusal to leave the bus stop."
     Peterson also cannot pursue an excessive-force claim, the court found.
     "Though we agree the use of force here may have been unreasonable, and acknowledge that Peterson described being pepper sprayed as a painful experience, Peterson has not presented sufficient evidence that he suffered more than de minimis injury," Kelly wrote. "Viewing the facts in the light most favorable to Peterson, he was sprayed directly in the face with pepper spray for just a few seconds, and suffered some pain, discomfort, and peeling under his eyes for several days after the incident. He did not seek medical care and his injuries resolved themselves without medical intervention. We do not make light of the use of pepper spray nor ignore the discomfort and skin irritation Peterson endured; nonetheless, we have not held that the use of pepper spray necessarily causes more than de minimis injury."
     Chief Judge William Jay Riley and Judge Myron Bright concurred.

Is Baby Powder Carcinogenic?

ST. LOUIS (CN) - A federal class action claims that Johnson & Johnson's baby powder, used in the genital area, causes a 33 percent increased risk of ovarian cancer.
     Denis Mikhlin and Erin Hoffmann filed the class action against the pharmaceutical giant in Federal Court.
     At issue is talc, the main ingredient in Johnson & Johnson's baby powder. Talc is a hydrous magnesium silicate, an inorganic material mined from the earth. There are talc mines throughout the United States. Talc is number 1, the softest mineral on the 1 to 10 Mohs scale of mineral hardness.
     "Johnson's Baby Powder is not safe," the complaint states. "As numerous studies have confirmed, Johnson's Baby Powder leads to a significant increased risk of ovarian cancer. Women who used talc-based powders to powder their genital area have a 33 percent increased risk of ovarian cancer compared to those women who never used the powders.
     "Despite the potential catastrophic health consequences, defendants do not tell consumers about the dangers associated with the talc-based Johnson's Baby Powder. Instead, defendants continue to expressly and impliedly represent that the product is safe and intended for women to use the Baby Powder in the very manner most likely to result in an increased risk of ovarian cancer."
     Johnson & Johnson markets the baby powder as a means of eliminating friction on the skin and absorbing moisture, while keeping skin cool and comfortable. The plaintiffs claim Johnson & Johnson encourages consumers to use the powder on infants after every bath and diaper change and for women who want their skin to feel soft, fresh and comfortable.
     The plaintiffs claim Johnson & Johnson markets its baby powder as safe, and that the only warnings to the public are to avoid getting it into eyes, avoid inhalation and to use it only externally. They claim that Johnson & Johnson has known about the cancer risk for more than 30 years.
     "As early as 1982, defendants were acutely aware of the scientific evidence linking ovarian cancer and perineal use of talcum powder," the complaint states. "In an August 12, 1982, New York Times article entitled 'Talcum Company Calls Study on Cancer Link Inconclusive,' defendants admitted being aware of the 1982 Cramer study that concluded women were three times more likely to contract ovarian cancer after daily use of talcum powder in the genital area."
     The plaintiffs claim that Johnson & Johnson continues to deceive the public about the powder's safety, despite mounting evidence accumulated through studies since 1982.
     "Despite defendants' knowledge, defendants failed to inform plaintiffs and the class of material facts and misrepresented material facts in connection with the sale of Johnson's Baby Powder," the complaint states. "Defendants' omissions and representations constitute deception, fraud, false pretense, false promise, misrepresentation, unfair practices and omission, concealment, and suppression of material information in connection with the sale or advertisement of any merchandise in trade or commerce in or from the state of Missouri."
     In October 2013, a South Dakota federal court found that Johnson & Johnson caused a woman's ovarian cancer and was negligent in failing to warn about the dangers of its talc-based baby powders, according to the complaint.
     Three additional lawsuits have been filed since January 2014 this year, claiming that Johnson & Johnson's gave the plaintiffs ovarian cancer.
     The class consists of all Missouri residents within the past five years who have bought Johnson & Johnson's baby powder. They seek class certification and punitive damages for violations of the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act, restitution, and a corrective advertising campaign.
     Plaintiffs are represented by Kevin P. Green of Goldenberg Heller Antognoli & Rowland in Edwardsville, Ill. 

Jailers Took Pictures of Young Man Who Hanged Himself in His Cell While He Was Still Alive, Father Alleges

    Jailers in a St. Louis suburb left a man hanging in his cell to get a camera and take photos of him while he was still alive, the late man's father claims in court.
     John Hogan sued the City of Pine Lawn, a city of 4,000, in St. Louis County Court.
     He also sued its Mayor Sylvester Caldwell, Police Chief Rickey Collins and city jail employees Jeff Thomas and Charles Hubbard.
     Hogan's son, Antonie Jones, was arrested and taken to the city jail in August 2009.
     "Defendants Caldwell, Collins, Thomas and Hubbard, and each of them knew, understood, were advised, and appreciated that Antonie Jones needed mental health medication, which they were unable to provide for, and Mr. Jones further needed transfer to an appropriate medical facility to prevent suicide," the father says in the lawsuit.
     "Defendants Caldwell, Collins, Thomas and Hubbard, and each of them, were deliberately indifferent to the serious medical needs of Mr. Jones and ignored his obvious need for medical help and instead incarcerated Antonie Jones, without precautions, in a cell in the City of Pine Lawn jail without needed medication or mental health treatment."
     Hogan claims that Thomas found Jones hanging in his cell on Aug. 29, and "assumed that Jones was dead."
     The complaint continues: "While Antonie Jones was still alive and hanging in his cell, defendant Thomas left Mr. Jones hanging by his neck to alert others.
     "Defendant Thomas notified defendant Hubbard, who delayed in assisting Antonie Jones by first calling an ambulance and looking for and retrieving a camera before assisting Mr. Jones.
     "Before removing Mr. Jones from his hanging position, defendant Hubbard took pictures of Mr. Jones.
     "Antonie Jones was not dead on the morning of August 29 when he was observed by defendant Thomas and defendant Hubbard and when pictures were taken of him hanging by his neck in the cell.
     "Defendants Thomas and Hubbard were deliberately indifferent to the obvious serious medical need of Antonie Jones when they left him hanging by his neck in his cell while he was alive and for a considerable period of time.
     "At that time and place, as alleged above, Antonie Jones was in dire need of immediate medical care and treatment to prevent his death by affixation and hanging and defendants, and each of them failed to meet Antonie Jones' medical needs."
     Hogan claims his son was still alive when EMT ambulance workers finally took him down. He died on the way to the hospital, the father says.
     Hogan says his son's death can be attributed to Pine Lawn's cost-cutting of its jail budget.
     "The actions and indifference of defendants, and each of them, as it related to Antonie Jones was a custom, policy, practice, and procedure of the City of Pine Lawn and its jail in staffing and employing severely undertrained and non-qualified employees, at a cheap rate, and further failing to train such employees and thus failing to provide incarcerated prisoners with appropriate care, treatment, and medication," the complaint states.
     Pine Lawn officials could not be reached for comment late Wednesday.
     Hogan seeks punitive damages for constitutional violations.
     He is represented by Gregory G. Fenlon, of the St. Louis Lawyers Group, in Clayton. 

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