Police Accountability in St. Louis

The Pulitzer Center spotlights police accountability in St. Louis. On September 13, the Pulitzer Center published an article. The piece is called “Two St. Louis Police Killings Similar to George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.” The article discusses the deaths of Nicholas Gilbert and Don Ray Clark. Both Gilbert and Clark died under police custody. Both were from St. Louis, Missouri. And both, as the Pulitzer Center notes, died in ways similar to George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, respectively.

The article also examines how the lawsuits surrounding these police killings could influence the Supreme Court’s view of qualified immunity (QI). 

27-year-old Nicholas Gilbert died five years before George Floyd. Bad St. Louis cops killed him under similar circumstances. Gilbert was handcuffed and shackled, with six officers (weighing  a combined total of 1,300 lbs) on top of him. 

Army vet Don Ray Clark was 63 when St. Louis police “acting on a no-knock warrant based on sketchy evidence” fatally shot him while asleep. This incident occurred three years before Breonna Taylor’s death. 

“Floyd’s and Taylor’s deaths were huge news events that brought worldwide attention to police killings,” notes the Pulitzer Center. “But Gilbert’s and Clark’s deaths got passing attention.” Meaning, at the time their killings didn’t spark protests. Furthermore, they didn’t make headlines. That is, until now. 

As the Pulitzer Center indicates, these killings “highlight both the banality of and lack of accountability for such police actions.” Plus, they highlight some of the “steepest roadblocks to police accountability.” 

Steepest among them is qualified immunity. 

In particular, the QI question plays a significant role in Nicholas Gilbert’s case. Specifically, a district judge “threw out the [Gilbert] lawsuit based on qualified immunity.” Meanwhile, an appeals court, the 8th Circuit, “took it a step farther.” Per the Pulitzer Center, the appeals court stated that “no reasonable jury could decide that the officers [who killed Nicholas Gilbert] used reasonable force.”

However, this is where the Supreme Court steps in. 

Recently, the Court hinted that they are open to reevaluating QI. For example, the Court disagreed with the 8th Circuit Court. Not just that, but they told the 8th Circuit to take another look at Nicholas Gilbert’s case. “In other words,” the Pulitzer Center writes, “the Supreme Court is saying that courts can’t say police are always acting reasonably when they apply pressure to a prone suspect.”

Ultimately, this could have an impact on how the judicial system takes on qualified immunity. Hopefully, the families of Nicholas Gilbert and Don Ray Clark will have justice for their loved ones. And the St. Louis cops who took their lives will face accountability for their brutal use of excessive force.  

Read more about police accountability in St. Louis here.