Pepper spray

Then-Major John Hayden, who is now St. Louis police chief, commanded the protest scene at Busch Stadium on September 29, 2017, when Police Officer William Olsten unleashed pepper spray on Amir Brandy and other Stockley verdict protests. Brandy is one of six plaintiffs in new lawsuits alleging police brutality filed against the city.

St. Louis Police Officer William Olsten became the first city cop to be charged with unlawfully assaulting civilians during the Jason Stockley protests. He was charged with three counts of assault in the 3rd degree, a Class D felony, for his use of pepper spray against civilians during a protest on September 29, 2017.

Four city officers have been charged with using excessive force when beating and arresting undercover cop Luther Hall during a September 17 protest downtown. However, Olsten is the first to be held accountable for his actions against everyday citizens, said attorney Javad Khazaeli, who represents six people who were arrested during the September 29 protest that led to Olsten’s charges.

“Up until this happened, the only people that anyone was looking to punish was those who beat up an undercover cop,” Khazaeli said. “Dozens of people that were beaten have had no support from law enforcement.”

On September 15, 2017, Jason Stockley was acquitted of murdering Anthony Lamar Smith in 2011 — and major protests ensued in the weeks following.

The incident in question occurred on September 29, 2017 at a protest outside of Busch Stadium. The July 2 probable cause statement explains the following. The entire incident leading up to the charges was captured on video by a number of sources. Video shows that a person (Calvin “Cap” Kennedy) was tazed, and Amir Brandy began yelling and cursing at Olsten. Another officer tried to restrain Olsten, but he broke away and sprayed Brandy with a can of pepper spray right in his face.

Olsten then sprayed Rasheen Aldridge, committeeman of St. Louis’ 5th Ward, who was standing next to Brandy and then sprayed other members of the crowd.

Olsten did not “stop spraying until he has completed his sweep of the crowd,” according to the statement. Heather DeMian, a livestreamer and independent journalist, is seen in the background in a wheelchair being struck by pepper spray.

Olsten is charged with three counts of assault in the 3rd degree, a Class D felony, because the pepper spray caused temporary blindness in Brandy, Aldridge and DeMian. 

“No clear warnings and/or orders to disperse were given,” the probable statement reads. “In addition the defendant started spraying the pepper spray within seconds of approaching [Brandy and Aldridge.] There was not an opportunity to heed the warnings, if such orders were given.”

Olsten is seen as being angry — not frightened — in the videos, it states, and Olsten did not attempt to arrest anyone. 

Khazaeli said the videos clearly show that Olsten went after the protestors to retaliate against them.

“And he did it all within a few feet from our now chief of police, John Hayden,” he said. Then-Major John Hayden commanded the protest scene at Busch Stadium on September 29, 2017, and can be seen in videos and photographs watching Olsten assault civilians with pepper spray without reacting or intervening.

A representative for the The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department said that they do not comment on pending litigation. In a January 2018 interview, The American asked Hayden why protestors were maced and arrested at the September 29 protest, but police did not do the same during the “white ally night” when protestors appeared to be even more aggressive.

Hayden said, “I can’t speak to what people say they experience as a disparity when they encounter the police. I just know there was none of that going on when I was working. I have no motive for that.”

It’s been almost two years since the incident. A spokeswoman for the Circuit Attorney’s Office said that it took this long to charge Olsten because “it was a complex investigation.”

Khazaeli represents more than 20 people who are making various allegations of excessive force during the Stockley verdict protests. On October 2, 2018,  Khazaeli filed six lawsuits stemming from the September 29 protest, and the city declined to comment on those suits.

The lawsuits state that protestors had lawfully and peacefully entered Busch Stadium on September 29 with tickets and unfurled a giant banner as a sign of protest. They left voluntarily and then rejoined protestors who were marching outside the stadium.

At one point, police officers grabbed a white female clergy member, and Rev. Darryl Gray yelled out against the action.

“Instantly and without warning, an SLMPD officer wearing an SLMPD baseball cap violently threw Reverend Darryl Gray to the ground, breaking the Reverend’s glasses,” the lawsuit states.

An officer then shot protestor Calvin Kennedy with a Taser. The lawsuit states that Olsten was taunting protestors with obscene language and then, without warning, Olsten pulled out “a large fogger-like canister of pepper spray.”

The lawsuits are supported by the findings in the order that U.S. Judge Catherine Perry wrote in the ACLU’s class-action lawsuit filed over the September 17, 2017 “kettling” arrests.

On November 15, 2017, Perry issued a preliminary injunction, ordering the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department to immediately stop using chemical weapons on protestors.

In her order, Perry stated that the ACLU is likely to succeed on its claim that the city police have “a custom or policy” of deploying pepper spray against citizens who record police or exercise their rights of free speech to criticize officers. Perry also found that the ACLU presented “sufficient, credible testimony and video evidence” of people being maced without warning and who were not “engaging in violent activity” or “in defiance of police commands.”

Then-interim chief Lawrence O’Toole, who is now assistant chief, supervised the chemical-weapon offense, beating and arrests of more than 120 people on September 17, 2017 in downtown St. Louis, where afterwards he boasted about the police “owning the night.”

He told the press that the “unruly crowd became a mob” after dark – a statement that a federal judge found false a couple months later in the ACLU’s class-action lawsuit against the police department. The federal judge cited video that showed the scene was “calm” before the police began kettling the protestors to arrest them.

The City of St. Louis now faces nearly 25 lawsuits alleging police misconduct – and the current police chief and current assistant chief were supervising the police actions that are at the heart of the pending lawsuits. If these lawsuits succeed, the city could be paying millions of dollars in damages and attorney fees – especially because there will likely be more people who come forward, Khazaeli said.

“If these all went to trial, you are looking in the millions and millions of dollars in damages and attorney fees,” Khazaeli said. “It depends on how long the city wants to drag this out.”

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