St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter knocked to ground by police and arrested
St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Mike Faulk was arrested by police on September 17, 2017, while covering a protest in St. Louis, Missouri.
According to the Post-Dispatch, more than a thousand people gathered in downtown St. Louis on September 17 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.
Around 11 p.m., large groups of police officers boxed in about a hundred people at the intersection of Washington Street and Tucker Boulevard. Faulk was among those caught in the kettle.
The Post-Dispatch reported what happened next:
St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Mike Faulk was caught in the kettle Sunday night. A line of bike cops formed across Washington Avenue, east of Tucker Boulevard and police in helmets carrying shields and batons blocked the other three sides of the intersection at Tucker and Washington. Faulk heard the repeated police command, “Move back. Move back.” He had nowhere to go.
The police lines moved forward, trapping dozens of people — protesters, journalists, area residents and observers alike. Multiple officers knocked Faulk down, he said, and pinned his limbs to the ground. A firm foot pushed his head into the pavement. Once he was subdued, he recalled, an officer squirted pepper spray in his face.
Police loaded Faulk into a van holding about eight others and took him to the city jail on Tucker, a few blocks to the south. He arrived about midnight and was released about 1:30 p.m. Monday after posting a $50 bond. Faulk was charged with failure to disperse, a municipal charge.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Joseph Martineau, an attorney for the Post-Dispatch, wrote a letter to St. Louis mayor Lyda Krewton, acting police chief Lawrence O’Toole, city counselor Julian Bush and deputy city counselor Michael Garvin demanding the city drop all charges against Faulk. The letter details the police’s treatment of him:
When he was arrested, Mr. Faulk was standing on a sidewalk reporting on the protests. He was not impeding vehicular or pedestrian traffic. He was clearly identified and credentialed as a reporter for the Post-Dispatch and repeatedly advised several of the arresting officers of his status. Nonetheless, he was rounded up and restrained by police officers who surrounded a large group of people and prevented them from leaving the perimeter in a mechanism we understand is referred to as "kettling." Independent of whether the "kettle" containment activity was proper under the circumstances (and as the Post-Dispatch has reported, there are serious questions about that), there was no reason why a credentialed reporter should have been arrested or restrained from doing his job of reporting the events. Once the reporter was clearly identified as such, he should have been released immediately and allowed to continue his newsgathering activity.
Moreover, as we understand the situation, Mr. Faulk was not merely restrained and arrested. While standing on the sidewalk and making no resistance , he was forcefully pushed to the ground by police officers and a police officer's boot was placed on his head. As a result of this unneeded and inappropriate force, Mr. Faulk suffered injury to both legs, his back and wrist. Even after being restrained with zip ties and totally subdued, a police officer deliberately sprayed him in the face with pepper spray, mace or some other stinging substance. At some point during the evening, an officer also took it upon himself to review the contents of the cell phone Mr. Faulk was using to communicate and photograph the events of the evening. A bike he was using during his news coverage has not been returned to him. He was held for over thirteen hours in jail, even though one of our editors was at the jail only two hours after the arrest to secure his release. That editor was lied to by jail personnel who told her that he was still in transport, even though he was already at the jail. Jail personnel denied his repeated requests for medical attention.
Post-Dispatch letter to mayor, police chief
Faulk was held in jail for 13 hours and then released on a $50 bond on the afternoon of September 18. Once released, he returned to the Post-Dispatch newsroom.
“He returned to the newsroom limping, knees bloodied and pepper spray still on his skin,” the Post-Dispatch reported.
Post-Dispatch editor Gilbert Bailon condemned the police’s treatment of Faulk.
“St. Louis Post-Dispatch journalists and other credentialed news media provide critical information to the public,” he said in a statement. “When St. Louis police arrested Mike, after he fully identified himself while covering the protests, they violated basic tenets of our democracy. Additionally, the physical abuse he suffered during the arrest is abhorrent and must be investigated. The Post-Dispatch is calling for our city leaders to immediately implement policies that will prevent journalists from being arrested without cause.”
The News Guild-CWA and the St. Louis chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists also condemned the arrest.
“The NewsGuild denounces the arrest of Guild member Michael Faulk and demands that any pending charges against him be dismissed,” Bernie Lunzer, president of The News Guild-CWA, said in a statement. “Faulk was doing his job, informing the people. There is simply no justification for his arrest and mistreatment. There has been a noticeable uptick in assaults and arrests of reporters in recent months. This is a dangerous trend that impedes journalists’ right to report and the people’s right to know.”
“Journalism is the only profession protected by name in the Constitution,” St. Louis SPJ chapter president Elizabeth Donald said in a statement. “The First Amendment is not a whimsical academic concept to be dismissed when it becomes inconvenient – or embarrassing to the police. The chilling effect of assaulting, arresting, jailing and charging a journalist in the course of his duties cannot be overstated.”
Both The News Guild-CWA and Society of Professional Journalists are partner organizations of the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.
A spokeswoman for the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department told the Freedom of the Press Foundation that no journalists have filed formal complaints of police misconduct.
“We hold our officers to the highest standards of professionalism and any officer not meeting those standards will be held accountable,” she said. “No members of the media have contacted the Internal Affairs Division to make a formal complaint. If anyone would like to make a complaint of officer misconduct, they should contact our Internal Affairs Division via our website (slmpd.org), phone (444-5652) or in person at Police Headquarters, 1915 Olive.”
Fulk filed a lawsuit against the City of St. Louis and eleven police officers in federal court, accusing them of violating his First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
In the complaint, Faulk describes how unnamed police officers (referred to as Doe Police Officers) assaulted him:
Several of the Defendant Doe Police Officers 1-5 then grabbed Mr. Faulk from behind, using their full weight to tackle him to the ground. One Doe Police Officer used his baton to try to strike Mr. Faulk in the genitals as several other Doe Police Officers jumped on top of him, seizing each of his limbs. As is true at every point previous to this, Mr. Faulk did not resist officers in any way.
As a result of the assault, Mr. Faulk sustained injuries to his neck, shoulders, hips, and legs.
One of the Defendant Doe Police Officers 1-5 placed his boot onto Mr. Faulk’s head and used his weight to press Mr. Faulk’s head into the asphalt of the street. Despite cries of pain from Mr. Faulk, the officer continued to press Mr. Faulk’s head against the ground.
As the Defendant Doe Police Officers held Mr. Faulk’s limbs, another Defendant Doe Police Officer approached Mr. Faulk, leaned down toward him, and sprayed him directly in the face with pepper spray from a distance of less than two feet. Mr. Faulk stated that the excruciating pain from this pepper spray made it almost impossible for him to see for the following two hours.
As Mr. Faulk lay on the ground, a Defendant Doe Police Officer very tightly tied Mr. Faulk’s hands with plastic “zip-cuffs,” causing Mr. Faulk significant pain. A doctor later diagnosed his left wrist and thumb with temporary nerve damage as a result of the tightness of the zip-cuffs. The numbness caused by this injury lasted for several months.
Faulk's lawsuit against St. Louis police officers