St. Louis County police on Thursday arrested at least four people, including a Post-Dispatch reporter, outside a town hall forum held by Rep. Russ Carnahan, said Dawn Majors, a Post-Dispatch photojournalist who witnessed everything unfold.
It happened about 8:30 p.m at Bernard Middle School on Forder Road in Mehlville. Carnahan, D-St. Louis, had drawn a rowdy crowd that overflowed the school gym and left dozens of people outside. Many of those who showed up at what had been billed as a forum on aging carried signs about the national health-care debate.
Dozens of people were kept out because there was no room for them inside. Members of the local Tea Party Coalition, a movement that has emerged to counter President Barack Obama’s policies, had urged their members to attend, which in turn spurred Democrats to establish a strong presence.
The event was winding down when Majors said she saw a police squad car turn its lights on and went to see what was happening. As she approached it, her eyes started to burn.
“And that's when I realized I'd walked through remnants of pepper spray,” Majors said. She turned her attention to taking pictures.
She said she saw a woman in handcuffs who was complaining about the pain of the spray and asking to wash her face and eyes. The response of the officer who was arresting her was, “I warned you,” Majors said.
Majors said the woman had been speaking very loudly and passionately in support of health-care reform earlier in the evening.
“She made herself very visible,” Majors said.
She also saw a man handcuffed and on his stomach. The man kept asking why he was being arrested, Majors said. An officer nearby said she wasn't the arresting officer, but she would let him know later. That response upset the man on the ground, she said.
Another man was sitting on the ground rubbing his knee, but was not handcuffed. Majors said she heard an officer tell him that he would be taken to jail and booked.
She also saw Post-Dispatch reporter Jake Wagman, who was reporting on the event and shooting video for stltoday.com. He was standing on a sidewalk, taking video.
As she photographed everything, Majors said she heard Wagman yell her name and say that he was being arrested. She turned and saw he had been handcuffed and was being put in the back of a squad car. The officer said Wagman had been interfering, Majors said.