Civil rights group reportedly sues Missouri county police over alleged unconstitutional arrests

March 13, 2015: St. Louis County Chief of Police Jon Belmar leaves a media briefing in Clayton, Missouri.

March 13, 2015: St. Louis County Chief of Police Jon Belmar leaves a media briefing in Clayton, Missouri.  (Reuters)

A civil rights group reportedly filed a lawsuit Wednesday alleging that police in a Missouri county have been making unconstitutional arrests.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported the suit alleges that St. Louis County police officers are issuing “electronic arrest warrants” across the state instead of “presenting sworn statements to a judicial officer and without obtaining a lawful arrest warrant.

ArchCity Defenders, a civil rights group based in St. Louis, alleges that police are arresting and holding alleged criminals for 24 hours rather than seek arrest warrants, according to the newspaper.

A similar practice was cited in the Justice Department’s report on Ferguson last year. In the report, one veteran officer was quoted as saying he would issue a wanted “if I do not have enough probable cause to arrest you.”

Thomas Harvey, the co-founder of ArchCity Defenders, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch the lawful way to use “wanteds” is to get one from a judge as soon as the person is detained. He said police have been using that detention to get the probable cause they originally were seeking.

The practice “is a tool for harassment for people who have exercised their right not to talk to the police,” Harvey said.

The lawsuit is also seeking class-action status and is seeking to represent anyone who was arrested using this practice, which might hold hundreds.

Dwayne Furlow, 31, was arrested on a “wanted” after he declined to talk to St. Louis County police over the phone about a domestic assault allegation on Jan. 25. The paper reported the allegation was withdrawn the next day, but the “wanted” wasn’t canceled.

Furlow was stopped on Jan. 28 in Jennings after failing to have a temporary license plate tag on the back of his vehicle. He was also driving on a suspended license but police weren’t going to arrest him for those violations, the Post-Dispatch reported.

He was arrested after the “wanted” was found, the suit alleges. Police refused to release Furlow even after a lawyer told officers the “wanted” was unlawful. Harvey said Furlow was released 24 hours later and the officer who issued the “wanted” never showed up to talk to Furlow.

Police Chief Jon Belmar and the officer who arrested Furlow are named in the suit. However, the officer’s last name and badge ID number are only mentioned in the suit.

The group is seeking damages for the “unlawful seizure” of Furlow and the violation of his civil rights, alleging that Furlow was only detained because he refused to talk to police over the domestic violence allegation.

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