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Tent Mission STL Founder On Her Suit Against St. Louis Police

Sharon Morrow is a founder of Tent Mission STL.
Brad Sarno

On her good days, 51-year-old Sharon Morrow is out the door pretty early, helping to get food and water to homeless St. Louisans. And for Morrow, who is disabled and also a breast cancer survivor, April 14, 2019, started out as one of those days when she felt healthy enough to do the work.

It was Palm Sunday, and she remembers it being cold and wet. She brought ponchos, gloves and hats with her to distribute to those without shelter. She also had her cellphone. And as St. Louis police officers began arresting a man outside City Hall that afternoon, Morrow recalls, she started filming.

Soon, Morrow herself would be arrested — and in a lawsuit filed last Friday, the ACLU of Missouri alleges it was retaliation for her First Amendment activities.

The suit names two St. Louis Metropolitan Police officers. A department spokesperson said it would have no comment on pending litigation.

Videos recorded by Morrow and another witness show parts of the interactions. (The videos were obtained by the ACLU and first published by the Riverfront Times.)

In the final few minutes of Morrow’s video, she gets into her vehicle on Market Street after officers tell her to leave, and a turn signal starts clicking.

Soon, an officer approaches the vehicle, again urging her to leave. As he bangs his fist on the driver’s side window, Morrow tells him she’s trying to go but having trouble seeing behind her to make sure the roadway is clear.

“There’s a car in my way. … I’m trying [to leave], but this guy was behind me,” Morrow can be heard saying. “I couldn’t see! I couldn’t see!”

Morrow’s suit alleges that officers then jerked her around while arresting and cuffing her, even as she pleaded that her disability makes it impossible for her to walk with her hands behind her back. She was thrown to the ground, triggering chronic shooting pains that continue to this day.

On Friday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Sarah Fenske talked with Morrow about her experience that day and why she decided to pursue legal action. She also shared her insights on current conditions in the city for those without housing.

Morrow has long been active with Street Kitchen Community Outreach and is also a founder of Tent Mission STL, which has been reinventing street outreach during the coronavirus pandemic.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Evie is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

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