ST. LOUIS – Four journalists have settled a lawsuit against the St. Louis County Police Department over their arrests in Ferguson, Missouri, during the unrest that followed Michael Brown’s death – but they won’t be allowed to talk about it.
Under the deal, Ryan Devereaux, Lukas Hermsmeier, Ansgar Graw and Frank Herrmann cannot “take any steps to publicize any of the terms” of the settlement. The agreement requires St. Louis County to pay $75,000 to resolve the federal civil rights lawsuit from the reporters, but like many settlements does not require the county to admit liability.
The agreement, a copy of which was obtained by The Huffington Post through a public records request, will also require all officers with the police department to undergo mandatory in-service training on media access and the right to record police activity.
A "qualified legal instructor with significant experience” in freedom of the press and constitutional rights will lead the training, according to the settlement. St. Louis County police have 60 days within the agreement’s effective date to begin the training. The settlement was announced Wednesday.
As part of the department’s new media policy, officers “shall not unreasonably interfere with media access to incidents or intentionally prevent or obstruct the photographing or videotaping of news in public places. Intentional interference such as blocking or obstructing cameras or harassing a photographer constitutes censorship.” Members of the press on private property “will not be arrested, or threatened with arrest for criminal trespass or otherwise, unless an owner or representative expressly indicates that the press is not permitted to enter or remain on the property.”
Under new general orders on recording police, officers “may not threaten, intimidate or otherwise discourage or interfere with the recording of police activities.” But those recording must maintain a “reasonable distance” and “may not obstruct police action.” Officers are required to inform individuals who may be violating those policies of “acceptable alternatives” before they are arrested.
The four journalists filed their lawsuit in March 2015, accusing police of battery, false arrest and unreasonable search and seizure.
Devereaux, who works for The Intercept, and Hermsmeier, a freelance journalist, said that despite having their hands in the air, identifying themselves as press and wearing their press credentials, they were shot at with nonlethal projectiles before they were taken into custody.
“No reasonable officer would have believed that the force used in detaining and arresting Devereaux and Hermsmeier was necessary and/or justified,” the lawsuit said.
Graw, a correspondent with German daily Die Welt, alleged that a St. Louis County officer told him he should be ashamed of being a journalist and said reporters were “telling lies about Ferguson.” Later, one of the officers who arrested him — allegedly Marcial Amaro — identified himself as “Donald Duck,” according to the lawsuit.
Herrmann, who writes for German regional newspapers, said he was arrested while wearing his press credentials and carrying a camera.
The journalists agreed to issue a joint public statement with St. Louis County that said the resolution would “ensure that the County’s policing activities are consistent with the County’s expressed commitment to keeping the public informed” and would not interfere with the police's ability to protect the community.
While the reporters agreed to keep the terms of the settlement private, confidential agreements with government entities in Missouri can be obtained through public records requests.
Police operating in Ferguson have been widely criticized for their treatment of journalists and civilians during the unrest following the death of Michael Brown in August 2014. A federal investigation found that “inappropriate” and “provocative” police tactics inflamed tension in the St. Louis suburb.
St. Louis County previously settled with journalists who were arrested and had faced charges, including a case in which a St. Louis County Police lieutenant falsely claimed in a police report that a journalist had refused to leave the street.
Wesley Lowery of The Washington Post and Ryan Reilly of The Huffington Post are currently facing charges in connection with their arrests in Ferguson on Aug. 13, 2014.