ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – A police commander testifies there’s “no script” when it comes to how to handle mass demonstrations, such as the night of September 17, when police arrested more than 100 Stockley demonstrators downtown.
Lt. Timothy Sachs testified that department policy is vague on how to handle such sprawling, chaotic events.
Facing questions from American Civil Liberties Union Attorney Tony Rothert, Sachs was asked when a protest can be declared an “unlawful assembly.”
“There is nothing written,” Sachs said.
“An officer can make the call?” Rothert said.
“That’s correct,” Sachs said.
Judge Catherine Perry asked Sachs about the exact meaning of police orders to “leave the area.”
“How far is far enough?” the judge asked.
“I couldn’t give you exactly how far would be far enough,” Sachs said.
At this point, ACLU attorney Rothert jumped in.
“How is a person on the street supposed to know how far, if you don’t know?” Rothert said.
“I don’t know. I had no script,” Sachs said.
The hearing also focused on allegations of excessive police force and the use of pepper spray.
Sachs testified that protesters wearing goggles or protective masks was provocative–suggesting they expect a confrontation, and that could provoke the police use of chemical weapons.
“When they put on masks and goggles after they see the police, that would head me in that direction,” Sachs said.
“Did police wearing helmets indicate they were looking for a confrontation?” Rothert asked.
“I couldn’t answer that for you,” Sachs said.
The arrests came shortly after 11 that night following vandalism downtown. Some protesters had shattered several plate glass windows and pushed over flower pots around 8:30. After the vandalism, police declared the entire protest an unlawful assembly, and ordered people to leave.
A large crowd of demonstrators — and onlookers caught in the confusion — were corralled by lines of police and arrested near the corner of Tucker and Washington. Some complained they were pepper sprayed, kicked or had their faces pushed into the pavement — even after they laid down on the sidewalk to face arrest.
Sachs told the court that there’s no department policy on when individual officers can use their personal pepper spray cans.
Sachs denied under oath knowing of any excessive force by police the night of September 17 downtown.
He also denied knowing any details about Luther Hall, the undercover St. Louis police officer, embedded with protesters, reportedly arrested and severely beaten by members of his own department.
“I’m not aware of that. The man doesn’t work for me,” Sachs testified.
At this point, Judge Perry seemed incredulous, pointing out Sachs had just testified he knew about “kettling” from reading reports in the paper, but didn’t know about the undercover officer whose story was also in the paper.
The ACLU says its lawsuit does not seek monetary damages, but wants the federal judge to issue an order restricting police in handling protesters.