U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Filmmaker Drew Burbridge beaten, pepper sprayed and arrested by St. Louis police

Incident Details

Date of Incident
September 17, 2017
St. Louis, Missouri
Case number
Case Status
Type of case

Arrest/Criminal Charge

Detention Date
Unnecessary use of force?


Was the journalist targeted?
Drew Burbridge complaint
November 19, 2021 - Update

City of St. Louis agrees to pay deceased filmmaker $115k to settle lawsuit

Drew and Jennifer Burbridge’s federal lawsuit against the City of St. Louis, its police department and multiple officers was settled and dismissed on Nov. 19, 2021, according to court filings reviewed by the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the city agreed to pay $115,000 to Drew’s estate to settle his claims that he was beaten, pepper-sprayed and wrongfully arrested during a 2017 mass arrest. Jennifer’s claims were dismissed and the city did not admit any liability.

April 15, 2019 - Update

Charges dropped against filmmaker Drew Burbridge

According to his federal lawsuit against the city, charges against filmmaker Drew Burbridge were dropped following his September 2017 arrest while filming protests in St. Louis, Missouri.

Burbridge and his wife, Jennifer, were both encircled by police using a tactic called “kettling” and then assaulted and arrested during protests on Sept. 17 that followed the acquittal of former police officer Jason Stockley in the shooting death of Anthony Lamar Smith, a Black man. Both filmmakers were detained by police for nearly 20 hours and released on charges of “failure to disperse.”

According to an amended complaint filed on April 15, 2019, and reviewed by the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, the city never followed through with a prosecution. Drew died on Jan. 31, 2021, according to court filings, but Jennifer continues as a plaintiff in the ongoing lawsuit against the city.

September 17, 2017

Drew Burbridge and his wife, Jennifer, were assaulted and arrested while filming protests in St. Louis, Missouri on Sept. 17, 2017, according to a federal lawsuit that the two of them filed against the city. Both Drew and Jennifer are documentary filmmakers.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri on Sept. 26 and accuses St. Louis police officers (referred to as “John Does”) of violating their First Amendment rights.

The complaint states that Drew and Jennifer Burbridge were filming protests in downtown St. Louis on Sept. 17 when they — along with protesters and other journalists — were enclosed by police in a “kettle” at the intersection of Tucker Boulevard and Washington Ave.

The complaint describes what happened next to Drew Burbridge:

After the initial deployment of chemical agents by the police, Drew Burbridge, who was sitting cross legged on the ground with his arms around his wife, was approached by two St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department officers, Defendants John Doe #1 and John Doe #2, in full riot gear.

One of the two officers (John Doe #1) stated “that’s him” and grabbed Drew Burbridge by each arm and roughly drug him away from his wife.

Drew Burbridge immediately identified himself to the Defendants as a journalist and specifically stated that he was not a protester, not resisting arrest, and was part of the media.

Defendants John Doe #1 and Defendant John Doe #2 then purposely deployed chemical spray into his mouth and eyes and ripped his camera from his neck.

At the time Defendants John Doe #1 and #2 purposely sprayed chemical spray into Drew Burbridges mouth and eyes, Drew Burbridge was not resisting and was willing and ready to comply with any order given by the Defendants.

John Doe #1 and #2 threw Drew Burbridge to the pavement, face first, and twisted his arms behind his back, and repeatedly kicked Drew Burbridge in the back while restraining his arms behind his back with zip-ties. During this entire time, Plaintiff was submissive and complying with the officers.

After Drew Burbridges hand were restrained behind his back and while on the ground, SLMPD officers Defendants John Does #1, 2, and 3, then proceeded to strike him on the ankles, legs, body, and head, with their feet, hands, and batons.

While beating Drew Burbridge, one of the John Doe Defendants stated: “Do you want to take my picture now motherfucker? Do you want me to pose for you?”

At no point during the illegal beating was Drew Burbridge resisting or in any other way failing to comply with the officers, and his hands were zip-tied behind his back during the beating.

Defendants continued to beat and pepper spray Drew Burbridge until he lost consciousness from the sustained beating. He awoke to an officer pulling his head up by his hair and spraying him with chemical agents in the face.

Despite repeated requests by Drew Burbridge, none of the law enforcement officers would identify themselves. All of the law enforcement officers involved had removed their name identifications.

Drew Burbridge was transferred to the custody of a uniformed SLMPD officer who placed him in a van for transport to jail.

Although he had been pepper-sprayed and beaten and could not see, the SLMPD officers did not allow or assist Drew Burbridge in rinsing the chemical agent from his eyes and would laugh as he stumbled and ran into objects as he tried to make his way into the van and jail.

Drew Burbridge was jailed for nearly 20-hours.

Drew Burbridge was released with a municipal charge of “failure to disperse.”

Complaint for damages

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected].