The lawsuit claims that the police used excessive force and intimidation, employing methods like shooting the plaintiffs with rubber bullets, to prevent them from gathering information. It also claims they spent hours handcuffed in custody. The plaintiffs are seeking an unspecified amount in damages. After unarmed African-American teenager Michael Brown was shot by former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in August, protests erupted within the small St. Louis suburb before spreading to cities across the country. The state brought in police officers from around Missouri, in addition to the National Guard, in an attempt to curb the unrest.
The journalists’ lawsuit was filed in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, and named the defendants as the St. Louis Police Department, 20 of its officers (whose names were left out of the lawsuit) dispatched to Ferguson to assist local law enforcement, as well as St. Louis County.
All four journalists claimed to have been taking pictures and interviewing protesters at the time of their arrest.
Devereaux, Hermsmeier, Hermann, and Graw are four of at least 10 journalists arrested while attempting to cover events in Ferguson. Captain Ron Johnson of the State’s Highway Patrol told the Associated Press that law enforcement officials had a difficult time discerning journalists from protesters.
"In the midst of chaos, when officers are running around, we're not sure who's a journalist and who's not," Johnson said at the time, when the AP and other media outlets sent letters to Missouri regarding the treatment of journalists and activists alike.
The arrests were part of a "concerted effort to suppress constitutionally protected newsgathering," the suit alleges.