The Slatest

Federal Judge Finds Policing of Ferguson Protests Was Unconstitutional

Police arrest a demonstrator in Ferguson on August 19.

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

A federal judge ruled on Monday that some of the tactics employed by the St. Louis County Police Department in Ferguson against demonstrators were unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry issued a preliminary injunction ordering the county police force to stop its blanket use of the “keep-moving rule”—also known as the “five second rule”—that required protesters to continue moving during demonstrations or face arrest. “Neither the public interest nor the interests of the [police] favor restricting the core constitutional rights of assembly and speech in the arbitrary and vague manner caused by the keep-moving rule,” the order reads.

The complaint brought by the ACLU last month alleged the St. Louis county police force unlawfully restricted peaceful demonstrations in Ferguson. In a broad preliminary rebuke of the police department’s handling of demonstrations in the wake of the shooting of Michael Brown, Judge Perry found the logic of the “keep-moving” rule violated protesters right of assembly and the ad hoc enforcement violated their right to due process.

“The keep-moving policy – as it was applied to plaintiff and others – prohibited citizens from peacefully assembling on the public sidewalks. Although the state has a valid interest in maintaining order on its streets and sidewalks and in preventing violence by crowds, this interest is not sufficient to apply such a blanket rule to people assembling peacefully,” the order said. “The rule provided no notice to citizens of what conduct was unlawful, and its enforcement was entirely arbitrary and left to the unfettered discretion of the officers on the street.”

The injunction directly affects the St. Louis County Police Department, who temporarily took over policing the town following the shooting, not the Ferguson police force.

*Correction, Oct. 7, 2014: This post originally misstated that the federal judge found the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department’s policing tactics in Ferguson unconstitutional, the ruling addressed the St. Louis County Police Department.