U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Independent filmmaker pepper-sprayed, arrested in St. Louis protests

Incident Details

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

Arrest/Criminal Charge

Detention Date
Unnecessary use of force?


Was the journalist targeted?
REUTERS/Joshua Lott

Around 100 demonstrators and multiple journalists were arrested during protests following a verdict of not guilty in the murder trial of a former St. Louis, Missouri, police officer on Sept. 17, 2017.

— REUTERS/Joshua Lott
August 3, 2023 - Update

Filmmaker gets part of $4.9 million class-action settlement

Independent filmmaker Mark Gullet received an undisclosed payout to settle his claims as part of a class-action lawsuit against the City of St. Louis, Missouri, and nearly 400 of its police officers.

The suit alleged that police violated the rights of 84 individuals during protests on Sept. 17, 2017, in response to the acquittal of a former St. Louis police officer in the shooting death of Anthony Lamar Smith, a Black man.

Officers used a technique called “kettling” to encircle and arrest demonstrators, bystanders and members of the press en masse, including Gullet. The filmmaker said an officer directly pepper-sprayed him in the face after he had already been restrained with zip ties.

At least nine journalists were assaulted, arrested or both in the kettle that night.

The city denied any wrongdoing and agreed to pay more than $4.9 million as part of the settlement agreement on Jan. 26, 2023, according to court records reviewed by the Tracker. The Post-Dispatch reported that the sum is one of the largest protest-related settlements in the country, with an average of $58,500 per person.

The Associated Press reported that the first settlement checks were distributed on Aug. 4. Gullet had filed a motion a day earlier to dismiss his separate 2018 lawsuit against the city and law enforcement officers. He received at least $68,500 as a class member who had independently sued the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, before fees and costs would have reduced the total to an estimated $43,000.

An attorney representing Gullet was not available for comment as of press time.

September 17, 2017

In a lawsuit filed on his behalf, freelance filmmaker Mark Gullet says he was assaulted and arrested by police officers in St. Louis, Missouri, on Sept. 17, 2017, while recording footage of a protest for his film on crime.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that more than 1,000 people had gathered in downtown St. Louis that day to protest the acquittal of Jason Stockley, a white former St. Louis police officer who in 2011 fatally shot Anthony Lamar Smith, a black man.

The Post-Dispatch reported that Gullet said he arrived downtown around 11 p.m., “after all the vandalism had happened.”

“I was on the sidelines with other media. Out of nowhere, we hear marching and batons hitting shields,” Gullet told the Post-Dispatch.

Three lines of police in riot gear and one of bicycle officers advanced around the intersection of Washington Avenue and Tucker Boulevard, boxing in approximately 100 people for arrest or detention in a maneuver called kettling.

According to the lawsuit filed on Gullet’s behalf, Gullet saw the bicycle officers approaching and asked them if he could leave. The lawsuit says the officers wouldn’t allow him to pass, and instead pushed their bicycles towards him and told him to get back. Trapped in the kettle, Gullet got on his knees on his own volition.

“At this point, Mr. Gullet observed officers unleash pepper spray without warning,” the lawsuit states. “Also without warning, a police officer grabbed Mr. Gullet’s arms so forcefully that Mr. Gullet thought his right shoulder was going to pop out. The officer then restrained Mr. Gullet’s hands with zip ties and pepper sprayed him directly in the face.”

Gullet was taken to St. Louis City Justice Center alongside others arrested at the scene, where he was jailed for approximately 20 hours without receiving medical attention, the lawsuit states.

On Sept. 17, 2018, one year after the kettling arrests, ArchCity Defenders, a legal advocacy group, and the law firm of Khazaeli Wyrsch filed 12 lawsuits against the St. Louis Metro Police Department on behalf of individuals whom they said were treated illegally by police officers during the protests. Gullet and two video journalists, Fareed Alston and Demetrius Thomas, were among those represented.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker documented 10 journalists detained, arrested, assaulted or had their equipment damaged while covering the protests that night.

Gullet, Thomas, Alston and the other plaintiffs are seeking damages, attorneys fees, expenses and any other relief the court deems appropriate. A trial for Gullet’s case has not been scheduled.

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