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Ferguson Protesters Try to Block Use of Tear Gas

An explosive device deployed by police flies in the air as police and protesters clash after tear gas was thrown on Aug. 13, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo. - Jeff Roberson—AP
An explosive device deployed by police flies in the air as police and protesters clash after tear gas was thrown on Aug. 13, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo. Jeff Roberson—AP

A federal judge told cops not to use of gas to disperse crowds without proper warning

A federal judge in St. Louis ordered local police to limit their use of tear gas after Ferguson protesters filed a complaint alleging their right to peaceful assembly had been violated.

Carol Jackson, a judge in the U.S. District Court of Eastern Missouri, issued a temporary restraining order Thursday after a hearing in which protesters argued they had been gassed without warning amid peaceful protests that erupted anew last month when a grand jury declined to indict officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown.

The ruling requires police to respect demonstrators’ rights to lawfully assemble and provide clear warning before resorting to the use of chemical agents. It represents a modest victory for the protest movement, which previously won a courtroom victory when a different judge ruled that a policy that required protesters to walk continuously was unconstitutional.

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Law enforcement stands in full gear by tanks in Ferguson, Mo. on Nov. 24, 2014 Barrett Emke for TIME
Protesters stand amid tear gas and smoke in Ferguson, Mo. on Nov. 24, 2014. Barrett Emke for TIME
Riot policemen clash with protesters in Ferguson Mo. on Nov. 24, 2014. Alexey Furman—EPA
St. Louis County Police tactical team members open their reserve supply of tear gas to be fired as they take cover behind an armored truck on S. Florissant Avenue in Ferguson, Mo. on Nov. 24, 2014. David Carson—St Louis Post Dispatch/Polaris
Law enforcement responds to protestors in Ferguson, Mo. on Nov. 24, 2014 Barrett Emke for TIME
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Police in riot gear tangle with a woman in front of emergency vehicles in Ferguson Mo. on Nov. 24, 2014. Larry W. Smith—EPA
A demonstrator puts his hands in the air amid protests in Ferguson, Mo. on Nov. 24, 2014 Barrett Emke for TIME
A law enforcement officer pushes back protestors after they destroyed a police car in Ferguson, Mo. on Nov. 24, 2014. Michael B. Thomas—AFP/Getty Images
Demonstrators attempt to push over a police car in Ferguson, Mo. on Nov, 24, 2014. Xinhua/Sipa
Cars burn at a car dealership as demonstrators protest the Grand Jury decision not to indict police officer Darren Wilson over the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. on No.v 24, 2014. Larry W. Smith—EPA
A car burns on the street after a grand jury returned no indictment in the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. on Nov. 24, 2014. Jim Young—Reuters
Protestors parade in the parking lot of a burning auto parts store in Ferguson, Mo. on Nov. 24, 2014. Tannen Maury—EPA
A demonstrator walks down the street after getting tear gas in her face and attempting to cleanse her eyes in Ferguson, Mo. on Nov. 24, 2014. Larry W. Smith—EPA
Patrick London surveys the damage at his fast food restaurant London's Wing House after it was looted during protests on Nov. 24, 2014. Barrett Emke for TIME
Michael Brown's mother, Lesley McSpadden, covers her face while standing alongside other demonstrators in Ferguson, Mo. on Nov. 24, 2014 Barrett Emke for TIME
Police stand near a burned out police car in Ferguson, Mo. on Nov. 24, 2014. Christian Gooden—St. Louis Post-Dispatch/Polaris
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A police officer holds her gun during clashes with protesters in Ferguson, Mo. on Nov. 24, 2014. Jewel Samad—AFP/Getty Images

At the same time, the impact of the temporary order is limited. It applies only to Missouri, and leaves the definition of fair warning at the discretion of police. Another hearing was scheduled for next month, according to reports.

The suit argued that local law-enforcement leaders violated the constitutional rights of demonstrators who had peacefully gathered to protest the grand jury’s decision. It focused on an incident that occurred late on the night of Nov. 24, as the region erupted in the aftermath of the announcement.

According to court documents, protesters had gathered outside a St. Louis coffeehouse when officers ordered the crowd to vacate the street. “Without notice or warning,” the complaint alleges, police then began firing tear gas canisters at the crowd, some of whom ran into the coffee shop, which filled with gas. Several protesters were sickened by the fumes.

The suit was filed by six plaintiffs: four protesters, the store owner and a legal observer who witnessed the episode. Chemical agents like tear gas and smoke have been used frequently to disperse crowds during the demonstrations that have rocked the region since Brown’s death in August.

Police defended the practice and said there was no attempt to injure protesters.”We don’t go to tear gas right away. We said over a loudspeaker, ‘This is an unlawful assembly, please leave the area,'” Sam Dotson, the St. Louis police chief who was named as a defendant in the suit, told the Riverfront Times. “This is where people lose focus a little bit. When the order to disperse is given, it applies to everyone. People always say, ‘It’s not me, so I don’t have to leave.’ The challenge for law enforcement is that we don’t know who the good guys are or who the bad guys are, because the bad guys intermingle with the good guys.”

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