U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Filmmaker Jennifer Burbridge 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?
Jennifer Burbridge excerpt
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 Jennifer Burbridge

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

Burbridge and her husband, Drew, 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.

September 17, 2017

Jennifer Burbridge was arrested while filming protests in St. Louis, Missouri on Sept. 17, 2017, according to a federal lawsuit that she and her husband, Drew, filed against the city. Both Jennifer and Drew 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 Jennifer and her husband 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 Jennifer Burbridge:

Jennifer Burbridge was among those who were initially indirectly subjected to chemical spray by the police.

Jennifer Burbridge was forced to watch her husband and film partner Drew Burbridge being drug away by Defendants John Does #1, #2 and #3.

She was physically prevented from following or assisting her husband.

She observed the law enforcement assault and beating of her husband.

At one point, while two officers were carrying Jennifer Burbridge away, one of the officers passed another male officer and stated, “Look who I have.” Such statements illustrated a clear intent on the part of the officers to target members of the media, like the Burbridges, who were attempting to document the protests and the SLMPD police response.

Another SLMPD officer made a point to walk up to Jennifer Burbridge after she had observed her husband pepper sprayed and assaulted and exclaim, “Did you like that? Come back tomorrow and we can do this again.” Another SLMPD officer stated, “What did you think was going to happen?”

Like her husband, Jennifer Burbridge was taken into custody of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department who placed her in a van for transport to jail.

On the way to the jail, a detainee in the van requested the name of the transporting officers, one of who responded, “I’m Father Time.”

Jennifer Burbridge was jailed for nearly 20-hours.

Jennifer Burbridge was required to submit to a jail administered pregnancy test as a condition of being released.

Jennifer Burbridge was release 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].