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Civil rights groups question recent Ferguson protester arrests

FERGUSON, Mo. - A civil rights group and several clergy said Friday that police overreached when arresting 13 protesters outside the Ferguson station.

All 13 remained in jail Friday afternoon, more than 15 hours after they were arrested. The protesters face charges of failing to comply with police, violating a noise ordinance and resisting arrest, Ferguson city spokesman Devin James said.

Protesters have been a constant presence in the St. Louis suburb in the nearly two months since Michael Brown was shot and killed by police officer Darren Wilson. Protesters want Wilson, who is white, to be charged in the killing of the unarmed, black 18-year-old. A grand jury considering the case isn't expected to rule for at least another month.

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Some who witnessed Thursday's protest that led to the arrests said it was small but peaceful. They questioned why arrests were necessary.

Just before midnight, officers began moving toward the chanting protesters, used plastic restraints on their wrists and put them in a van, according to Gabrielle Hanson, who was at the scene while her mother, freelance videographer Mary Moore, shot video. Moore was among those arrested, Hanson was not.

Hanson said Moore was shooting video of the arrests when one of the protesters handed her a cellphone. When Moore took it, she was arrested, Hanson said, and officers confiscated her camera.

Asked what the protesters were saying or whether they were being noisy, Hanson said, "They were chanting, 'Show me what democracy looks like.'"

The protesters were jailed in St. Ann, a neighboring community. Several clergy gathered Friday at the St. Ann police station to meet with those arrested and show support.

"These are students, scholars, living out democracy who are now being treated like prisoners," the Rev. Starsky Wilson said. "We see this as an attempt to break down peaceful protests."

The clergy also urged a municipal judge in Ferguson to order the protesters' release or at least lower their bonds. Some were as high as $2,700 for the misdemeanor charges.

Tony Rothert, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union office in St. Louis, said several complaints have been lodged about Thursday's arrests and the ACLU is investigating.

"There do appear to be, if not bogus, at least unnecessary arrests," Rothert said. "Holding people unnecessarily long, arresting them when it's not necessary - that's an indication of overreach. It certainly appears that the purpose is to discourage people from coming to Ferguson to protest."

Hundreds have been arrested in the unrest since Brown's death, including journalists and clergy. The Rev. Osagyefo Sekou was arrested Monday and charged with failure to disperse after sitting on a sidewalk with other protesters.

Meanwhile, St. Louis County police announced Friday that they will take charge of security detail related to protests in Ferguson, effective immediately. It's not clear if what happened Thursday played a role in that decision. County police said Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson asked the county to assume command, citing a "lack of resources and manpower."

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