Missouri prosecutors have launched an investigation into the alleged police assault of a black woman and her son after a video of four officers pushing the pair on the concrete floor of a Sam’s Club store went viral.
St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell announced the investigation into the March 23 incident against Marvia Gray, 68, and her 43-year-old son, Derek, on Wednesday evening. The independent investigation comes just two days after the Grays filed a civil-rights lawsuit against the city of Des Peres and the four officers involved, claiming they were violently arrested after being falsely accused of stealing a television from the big-box store.
“The Des Peres Police Department recently brought our office an application for charges regarding the incident at the Des Peres Sam’s Club, which occurred in late March 2020,” Bell said in a statement. “We have initiated an independent investigation into all aspects of the matter.”
According to the lawsuit filed in St. Louis County Circuit Court, the Grays went to the Sam’s Club in Des Peres on March 23 to buy a television. The television they purchased did not fit into their SUV, so Derek Gray “informed the store staff that he would return later in the day” to pick up the appliance, according to the court papers.
When Gray returned later with his receipt, the lawsuit alleges, store employees told him the TV was “withheld from him on suspicion that he was attempting to steal it.” Eventually, the TV was released to him after a “store employee interceded with management and confirmed that Derek had in fact made the purchase,” the documents state.
But when he attempted to load the television into his car, a Des Peres police officer followed him and made an “emergency phone call” to his department. During the call, Clayborne stated he had “witnessed Gray steal a TV and place it in the parked vehicle”—despite both Gray and a store employee confirming he had purchased the electronic legally.
The lawsuit states that Gray was allowed to return home, where he told his mother an officer had accused him of stealing. Upset, the Grays went to the store to return the TV and get a refund, the lawsuit says.
While the Grays were back at the store, the lawsuit alleges that four officers “without cause or adequate provocation and in the presence of countless witnesses, violently and physically seized Marvia Gray and Derek Gray, throwing them to the floor, beating them, handcuffing them, then arresting them.”
“I said, ‘They going to kill him,’” Marvia Gray explained in a Monday news conference announcing the lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages. “I gave up. This is the way Derek is going to go. They were beating him so bad.”
The incident was captured on the store’s surveillance camera, which shows the officers confronting the Grays, making Derek Gray visibly upset. While the 43-year-old and an officer yelled at one another, Marvia put herself in between the two men and then tried to walk off. Moments later, officers grabbed the mother and son, pushing them toward the store’s soft drink dispensers to arrest them.
In another video captured by two bystanders, the Grays can be seen on the ground, pleading with officers to let them go. Derek Gray appeared to be bleeding as officers struggled to cuff him and his mother while they’re pinned to the ground.
“Leave me alone, please,” the 64-year-old is heard screaming in the video. “What are you doing... Please let me go.”
At another point in the four-minute video, Derek Gray tried to sit up—prompting two officers to forcefully push him back down. Several times, he is heard yelling, “Get off me” and “I’m humiliated.”
The video of the incident instantly went viral, spurring outrage from local civil-rights leaders and calls for a police investigation.
Democratic U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay of St. Louis said that excessive force and racial profiling “must be rooted out and removed from local law enforcement before another incident like this leads to a tragedy.” John Bowman, president of the St. Louis County chapter of the NAACP, slammed the officers for “bullying” in a Wednesday statement.
“In St. Louis and in the United States, when a black person interacts with a white police officer, the immediate concern is, will he be treated with respect, or will they be allowed to make a call safely, or will they be harassed, beaten and killed because of the color of our skin?” Bowman said.
On March 25, the Des Peres police department issued a statement about the event, insisting that “the items were in fact stolen.”
Authorities argued that during the violent arrest, “a subject attempted to remove a fire extinguisher from a wall (during the struggle) in a manner to attempt to use it against the officer but it was dislodged from him as he was wrestled to the ground.”
The videos of the arrest—which did not capture the entire incident—do not show either of the Grays taking a fire extinguisher. Police said Marvia Gray was ultimately charged with resisting arrest and interfering with police. No charges have been lodged against Derek Gray.
The four officers and Derek Gray were taken to a local hospital after the incident, and one of the officers was treated for a dislocated finger, police said. The lawsuit claims that the 64-year-old mother suffered “severe injuries to her tailbone, her back, her rotator cuff, her knees and her arms” while her son suffered a concussion, three shattered teeth, and had to get 12 stitches and several metal staples in his head.
“I have no faith in the police anymore,” Marvia Gray said Monday. “They tried to take my only child.”
The Des Peres City Police Department declined The Daily Beast’s request for comment, while the city’s public safety director “unequivocally denies” that officers used excessive force, according to a spokesperson.