Des Peres police brutalized mother and son, according to suit

A mother is suing the City of Des Peres and four of its police officers for what she describes as a brutal assault and battery that occurred on March 23 following a false charge of stealing a television set.

“We are demanding accountability,” attorneys Andrew M. Stroth and William E. Dailey said. “We are demanding justice.”

According to the lawsuit, Derek Gray suffered three shattered front teeth, a head injury requiring 12 stitches and seven staples, a cut above his right eye that required seven stitches, along with severe neck and back pain.

Marvia Gray, 68, suffered severe injuries to her tailbone, back, rotator cuff, knees and arms, among other injuries, according to the suit.

They claim four Des Peres police officers brutalized them when they returned a TV to Sam’s Club on Manchester Road in Des Peres, “throwing them to the floor, beating them, handcuffing them, then arresting them,” according to the suit.

“I’m looking at these police just beating him and kicking him and all of this and I said, ‘They’re going to kill him,’” Marvia Gray said. “I could see my son die before my eyes.”

“At this time the department has not been formally notified of a lawsuit,” Captain Sean Quinn of Des Peres Police Department stated in an email on May 18. “The department has no further comments at this time.”

On March 25, Des Peres’ director of Public Safety responded to social media posts about the incident in a release. It stated that Derek Gray resisted arrest for suspected larceny, which led to him and the arresting officer crashing into a wall. It claimed that Gray tried to remove a fire extinguisher from the wall, “but it was dislodged from him as he was wrestled to the ground.”

In a surveillance video released on May 19, Gray yanks his hand away as an officer tries to handcuff him and then moves toward the exit. It’s the officer’s pursuit of Gray that slams them both against the wall where the fire extinguisher is holstered. It’s not clear that it was Gray’s intention to weaponize the fire extinguisher. Gray never has control of the object, and when it falls to the ground no police officer removes it from reach as police are trained to do with a weapon that is taken.

The Grays claimed they had purchased the TV earlier that day. At that point, they claimed, Police Officer Michael Clayborne followed Derek Gray, suspecting him of stealing the TV. He had previously purchased the 65-inch TV but could not fit it into their SUV.

The other officers named in the suit are Brandley Summers, Ryan Righesisen and Bill Maull.

They claim that Clayborne called for emergency back-up even after a store employee told him that the Grays had purchased the item earlier.

The Grays and their attorneys told their story in a virtual press conference organized with the St. Louis County NAACP and its President John Bowman.

“We will not tolerate Jim Crow policing, Jim Crow-style attacks,” Bowman said. “NAACP St Louis County stands firmly with the Gray family.”

In addition to the 2014 Ferguson Police killing of Michael Brown, the attorneys and NAACP referenced the recent vigilante killing of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia.

“We know that in all these jurisdictions across the country everyone's dealing with the COVID pandemic,” Stroth said.

“But, as Mr. Bowman referenced, we have another pandemic in the black community, and that's the unjustified use of force against black and brown individuals across the country.”

Marvia Gray is suing for compensatory and punitive damages. The family also is seeking an independent investigation into the incident.

St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell told The American that he has initiated a “thorough investigation of the incident.”

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