Marvia Gray thought her son was going to die.
She was prone on the concrete floor of the Sam’s Club in Des Peres. Her only son, Derek, was next to her.
“They going to kill him,” she thought. “I gave up. This is the way Derek is going to go. They were beating him so bad.”
Gray, who is 68, made the allegations against the Des Peres police department in a video news conference Monday afternoon, after her attorneys, William Dailey of St. Louis and Andrew Stroth of Chicago, filed a civil rights lawsuit against Des Peres and four of its police officers on her behalf. The lawsuit accuses the city and its officers of assault and battery, false imprisonment and malicious and false prosecution over charges brought against Marvia Gray in April.
The Grays are black. Most of the police officers involved are white.
The lawsuit stems from an incident on March 23, when Gray and her 43-year-old son bought a 65-inch, flat-screen television at Sam’s Club on Manchester Road. When the Grays couldn’t fit the TV in their SUV, they took it back into the store and asked that it be placed on a pallet near the front of the store, where Derek Gray could later retrieve it.
When Derek Gray returned to get the television, the lawsuit says, a store employee didn’t believe he had purchased it, and he was forced to come inside to customer service to show the receipt. Another employee of the store let fellow employees know the television had been properly purchased, the lawsuit alleges. Derek Gray put the television in his vehicle, but when he got it home told his mother that they first accused him of stealing it.
Marvia Gray, who lives in Creve Coeur and had been shopping at the store for 10 years, became incensed, the lawsuit says, so she and her son drove back to the store to return the items.
At that point, the lawsuit alleges:
“While the Grays were at the Store attempting to get a refund, Officer (Michael) Clayborne, Officer (Bradley) Summers, Officer (Ryan) Ringeisen, and Officer (Bill) Maull, 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. These actions are captured on closed-circuit video taken by the surveillance cameras in the Store and cell phones of onlookers.”
A cellphone video provided by Stroth to reporters shows the two Grays already on the ground, struggling while police officers cuff their hands behind their backs and pin them down to the ground.
Marvia Gray can be heard screaming: “Leave me alone, please … What are you doing … Please let me go.”
Derek Gray’s head appears to be bleeding in the video.
At the time of the incident, the Des Peres police department issued a statement on its Facebook page, responding to social media discussion of the event.
“Upon our arrival, officers were notified … that the items were in fact stolen,” the statement said. “A family member who began to grab and pull at the officers during the initial contact was also taken into custody and charged with interfering and resisting arrest.”
The police statement said that four officers, along with Derek Gray, were taken to a hospital for treatment. The Facebook post alleges that Derek Gray “attempted to remove a fire extinguisher from the 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 lawsuit alleges both Grays were injured by the officers throwing them to the ground. Neither Gray has been charged with theft related to the incident.
Marvia Gray faces a charge of resisting arrest and interfering with police. There are no state charges filed against Derek Gray.
Des Peres City Administrator Douglas Harms said in an emailed statement that, “Director of Public Safety Eric Hall has reviewed all reports and a video of the incident and unequivocally denies that officers used excessive force to ‘beat’ the plaintiffs. … Charges remain under review by Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell who has been provided a copy of the store video and all incidents reports by Des Peres police. The city will have no further comment at this time.”
A spokesman for Bell, the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney, said Bell’s office intended to conduct a “full and complete independent investigation of the matter.”
“We are demanding accountability,” Stroth said in the news conference announcing the lawsuit. “Mrs. Gray thought her son was about to be yet another black man, unjustifiably shot and killed by the police. Whether it’s Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, or Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, Georgia, we demand justice and accountability to prevent these tragic events from happening in our communities.”
Dailey defended Marvia Gray’s reaction to her arrest, and her son’s arrest, by police officers in light of multiple high-profile incidents of police brutality across the country committed by white police officers against African Americans.
“Would you remain calm?” Dailey asked, calling the attack unprovoked and unwarranted.
Marvia Gray says the incident has changed her view of police forever.
“I have no faith in the police anymore,” she said. “They tried to take my only child.”