The St. Charles County SWAT team fired tear gas canisters at the three journalists when they were preparing a shot, even though there were no protesters around.
Three al-Jazeera journalists have settled a $280,000 lawsuit, which they filed after being tear-gassed during the 2014 riots in Ferguson, Missouri.
According to The Associated Press, St. Charles County has agreed to pay the six-figure sum to resolve the journalists’ claims.
Ferguson, notes The A.P., “became a focal point for the racial injustice movement” after 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot to death by a White police officer in 2014. The officer responsible for Brown’s death—Darren Wilson—was not charged. However, he did resign from the Ferguson police force in November of 2014.
A later grand jury investigation found that the most reliable eyewitness testimonies supported Wilson’s characterization of events.
Brown’s death, and the lack of indictment, incited months-long protests and riots in Ferguson and beyond. Many media outlets were on-site to cover the rapidly-developing situation. Among them were al-Jazeera correspondent Ash-har Quraishi, producer Maria Cichowski, and photojournalist Sam Winslade.
Together, the three al-Jazeera employees were preparing a live broadcast when the St. Charles County SWAT team fired tear gas canisters in their direction.
Those officers, notes The Associated Press, had been called into Ferguson to help control and contain the protests.
Lathrop GPM—the law firm representing the journalists—said video evidence contracted law enforcement claims that the tear gas had been deployed only in response to nearby protesters throwing rocks and other debris at police.
Rather, Lathrop claimed in the lawsuit that footage clearly showed there were no protesters in the vicinity of the al-Jazeera crew.
Mary Enger, a spokesperson for St. Charles County, said that a SWAT deputy fired a tear gas canister “to clear an area near what he did not know at the time was an Al Jazeera news crew.”
Enger said that the county, as well as the responsible deputy, continue to “maintain that the deputy exercised proper judgment in firing a single tear gas canister during a period of unprecedented public disorder in the region.”
Bernie Rhodes, the attorney representing the al-Jazeera news crew, said the $280,000 is significantly larger than other settlements involving journalists harmed in Ferguson. Rhodes suggested that the 2020 murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer likely increased Ferguson’s willingness to pay a larger settlement.
“The jury’s verdict finding [Minneapolis Police Officer Derek] Chauvin guilty of George Floyd’s murder represents a turning point in America: jurors will no longer rely on law enforcement’s version of what happened, especially when there is video that affirmatively disproves the police,” Rhodes said in a statement.