Ferguson activist turned politician says police beat him

AP News
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Posted: Dec 23, 2016 4:12 PM

ST. LOUIS (AP) — A Ferguson activist turned politician is suing police in the St. Louis area, saying he was beaten and pepper sprayed while handcuffed during a 2014 protest.

Missouri state Rep.-elect Bruce Franks Jr. alleges that St. Louis County and Berkeley police kicked him in the face and beat his legs with a baton while he was handcuffed face-down on the ground during a December 2014 protest over the fatal police shooting of Antonio Martin. The shooting came amid heightened tensions that followed the August 2014 fatal police shooting of black, unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson.

The federal civil rights lawsuit, filed Thursday, says Franks was trying to act as a peacemaker after protesters gathered in the St. Louis suburb of Berkeley following the fatal shooting of Martin, a black 18-year-old who had pointed a gun at an officer in a convenience store parking lot. Police initially charged Franks with resisting arrest and assaulting an officer, but those charges later were dropped. The lawsuit alleges the charges were aimed at justifying police misconduct.

A Berkeley police captain didn't immediately respond to requests for comment Friday. The St. Louis County counselor said he hasn't seen the lawsuit yet and typically doesn't comment on pending litigation.

The lawsuit says Franks, who is black, was working with a small group of volunteers called the Peacekeepers who tried to de-escalate tensions between protesters and police. The Peacekeepers had positioned themselves between police and protesters, according to the lawsuit, when an officer grabbed a member of Franks' group.

The lawsuit says Franks bear-hugged the fellow volunteer "in an attempt to pull him back with the other Peacekeepers. In the brief struggle that ensued, the three men lost their balance and fell to the ground."

Police then handcuffed Franks, who says he didn't resist arrest. The lawsuit says that after officers beat him, one officer sprayed him in the face with pepper spray.

"Mr. Franks' case sheds light on the dangers of police power," Thomas Harvey, executive director and co-founder of nonprofit legal group ArchCity Defenders, which filed the lawsuit, said in a statement.

Franks, a St. Louis Democrat, was elected in November and takes office in January. His lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages.