US judge orders police to issue warnings, give crowds time to disperse before using tear gas

A demonstrator reaches for a tear gas canister during a protest in the St Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri on Nov 25, 2014. A federal judge on Thursday ordered St Louis police to issue warnings before firing tear gas, following complaints by activi
A demonstrator reaches for a tear gas canister during a protest in the St Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri on Nov 25, 2014. A federal judge on Thursday ordered St Louis police to issue warnings before firing tear gas, following complaints by activists over heavy-handed tactics during ongoing race-related protests. -- PHOTO: REUTERS 

ST LOUIS (Reuters) - A federal judge on Thursday ordered St Louis area police to issue warnings and give crowds reasonable time disperse before firing tear gas, following complaints by activists over heavy-handed police tactics during ongoing race-related protests.

United States District Judge Carol Jackson delivered the ruling after hearing arguments in a lawsuit filed by a group of protesters against local and state police officials in Missouri.

In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs said children and elderly people were within the crowds when the police launched tear gas without warning, boxed in demonstrators, making it hard for them to leave the area, and failed to wear visible identification.

The judge did not grant all of the conditions sought by protesters, including one seeking an order that tear gas be used only as a "last resort to prevent significant threats to public safety". The complaint filed on Monday names as defendants St Louis police chief Sam Dotson, St Louis County police chief Jon Belmar, and Missouri Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson.

Police officials did not respond to requests for comment.

The six plaintiffs include a coffeehouse owner; two co-founders of an area activist organization; a legal observer; a professor from Saint Louis University; and a college student.

"This was a victory today," said lawyer Brendan Roediger, who is helping represent the plaintiffs. "At its core it accomplishes what we were asking for."

The protests erupted in the St Louis suburb of Ferguson in August after white Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown, an African-American who was unarmed.

Brown's Aug 9 death, and the lack of charges against Officer Wilson, have prompted expanding protests over what activists say is deeply ingrained hostile treatment of African Americans by the police, and an unequal justice system that does not hold police accountable.

Protests have spread to many major US cities, and accelerated after a grand jury in Staten Island decided not to indict a white police officer there in the death of a 43-year-old black man suspected of illegally selling cigarettes.