Judge hears case as protesters seek police limits

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ST. LOUIS (AP) — A woman who protested in Ferguson and St. Louis the night a grand jury decided not to indict the officer who fatally shot Michael Brown testified Thursday that police used tear gas without provocation.

Alexis Templeton testified as part of a lawsuit seeking a temporary restraining order that would place strict guidelines on police use of force during demonstrations, including limits on use of chemical agents such as tear gas and pepper spray.

It isn't clear when U.S. District Judge Carol Jackson will rule. Her decision will apply only to Missouri.

Templeton, 20, is co-founder of the activist group Millennial Activists United. She's one of six protesters who filed the suit.

Ferguson officer Darren Wilson shot and killed the unarmed, black 18-year-old on Aug. 9. The shooting by a white officer resulted in protests and some looting.

After months of mostly peaceful protests, violence was renewed on Nov. 24 after St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch announced the grand jury decision not to charge Wilson with a crime.

Templeton said violence in Ferguson that night came after police fired tear gas at peaceful protesters, moments after ordering them to disperse.

"People started choking," Templeton said. "People were vomiting on the ground. It was chaos."

Templeton said that later that night, she drove to a separate demonstration in the Shaw neighborhood of St. Louis, the site of another recent police shooting, and police used tear gas there as well. Steven Hoffman, 31, a legal observer who volunteered to watch how police interacted with protesters, said he also was in the Shaw neighborhood when a large police vehicle suddenly began firing tear gas canisters.

St. Louis County Police attorney Michael Hughes said officers did what they had to do. That night, 12 businesses in and near Ferguson were burned, along with police cars. Several other businesses and Ferguson City Hall were damaged.

"They were well-prepared," Hughes said of police. "They handled themselves very well."

The lawsuit names St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar and Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ronald S. Johnson. The three were leaders of the "unified command," appointed by Gov. Jay Nixon in August, which was responsible for protection related to civil unrest.

Police actions have had a chilling effect on demonstrators' constitutional rights of assembly and free speech, their attorney, Thomas B. Harvey, said.

Protests have spread across the country since the Brown decision and a grand jury decision in New York City not to indict a white officer in the death of Eric Garner, who died gasping "I can't breathe" while police were trying to arrest him for allegedly selling loose, untaxed cigarettes.

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