St. Louis-area school board member sues police for using stun gun against her at 2015 protest
Kristine Hendrix, 36, is suing the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department for assault, battery and false arrest after officers used stun guns against her repeatedly as she participated in a peaceful protest.
"There's no excuse for this kind of excessive force," Hendrix said in a phone interview on Thursday. "This wasn't an attempt to incapacitate or subdue me. It was to punish me."
The protest occurred in downtown St. Louis on May 29, 2015. Video of the attack — which Hendrix shared on YouTube the same day — depicts a police officer approaching Hendrix and another man on the street, then using his stun gun against both.
"Put your hands behind your back," the officer is heard shouting over the clicking noise of the stun gun and the sounds of Hendrix's screams.
“I can’t, it hurts!" Hendrix yells. "I can’t, it hurts! It hurts so bad! Please, please stop!"
Another officer allegedly approaches Hendrix from behind and uses his stun gun against her as well. The petition — which was filed by the Arch City Defenders, a St. Louis-based public defense organization that has filed a dozen similar police misconduct and brutality lawsuits since 2014 — identifies the two officers as Louis Wilson and Stephen Ogunjobi.
Much of the footage is blurry, so the officers' actions aren't clearly captured. But the audio provides a clearer rendition, and appears to depict Hendrix falling to the ground as she is stunned over and over again.
"Oh my God, why are you doing this?" she screams. "I’m on the ground!”
Hendrix is an elected member of the board of education in University City, a suburb of St. Louis. She has three children, and was involved in the protests in nearby Ferguson that captured national attention in 2014.
Mic has written about Hendrix's community work in the past, including an after school anti-violence forum she helped coordinate at a local elementary school. She is no stranger to mistreatment by law enforcement.
"It just confirmed everything we had been in the streets for," Hendrix said of the May 2015 attack. "That no matter how respectable you are, you're standing in the community, you’re black first. [The officers] took this as an opportunity to brutalize us for expressing our opinions."
Hendrix and a small group of demonstrators had been marching through downtown St. Louis that evening to draw attention to police misconduct in the city. They were walking in the street, but traffic was slow or stopped because of a nearby Cardinals game, Hendrix said.
As the protest wrapped up and participants were making plans to head home, St. Louis police officers arrived and started arresting protesters. Hendrix and another man, who she identified as Emanuel Jones, were stopped by an officer and hit with the stun gun.
Hendrix was arrested and charged with resisting arrest for the incident. But she was found not guilty, partly on the strength of her video evidence, which suggested that she could not place her left hand behind her back to be cuffed — in compliance with officers' orders — because the officers kept tasing her.
In the lawsuit, filed Friday, Hendrix's attorneys cited the findings of the court in her resisting arrest case to support their client's petition.
"Ms. Hendrix was being electrified almost continuously before the officers handcuffed her," the judgment reads, according to the petition. "This Court believes Ms. Hendrix [sic] testimony ... that she could not comply with Officer Wilson’s command that she put her arms behind her back."
Law enforcement officers in the St. Louis area have gained national notoriety for their conduct in recent years. Officers in Ferguson and the St. Louis County Sheriff Department quelled protests related to the killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old, using tear gas, rubber bullets and military-grade armored vehicles in 2014.
Hendrix is asking for an unspecified amount in monetary compensation from the department to cover damages and legal fees. But on a broader level, she wants the police to be held accountable.
"They’re given a gun and a badge and entrusted to protect our community," she said. "They should be accountable in a way normal citizens are not. They should be held to a higher standard."