ST. LOUIS—A federal court gave preliminary approval to a nearly $3 million settlement involving a‌ ‘debtor’s’ prison in Florissant. 

The federal lawsuit accuses the city of violating the constitutional rights of residents by jailing them and forcing them to pay fines and fees amounting to millions of dollars, often for minor traffic violations.

The settlement is similar to five others that have been reached in the region since Michael Brown’s 2014 death. The policing and court practices in several St. Louis County municipalities were scrutinized after the 18-year-old was killed by a white Ferguson police officer. 

ArchCity Defenders, a public interest law firm that litigated the case, says the settlement will be distributed among more than 85,000 people who were jailed or paid fines to Florissant between Oct. 31, 2011 and Feb. 1, 2023. 

The law firm says the settlement also requires Florissant to:

  • Permanently forgive all unpaid fees from traffic violations between Oct. 31, 2011 and Dec. 31, 2019
  • Eliminate the use of “bond schedules”
  • Provide all arrested persons with unconditional access to indigency forms
  • A timely indigency hearing no later than 24 hours after person is booked
  • Uphold the right to counsel for individuals held in jail and brought before a municipal judge

ArchCity Defenders says Florissant generated millions of dollars through its municipal court, but that the city denies all allegations and has not admitted to any wrongdoing.

Spectrum News St. Louis reached out to Florissant this afternoon and was told the city did not have a statement to make at this time.

One of the suit’s lead plaintiffs said at 24 she was jailed twice by Florissant because she could not afford to pay fines from traffic tickets, according to a press release from ArchCity Defenders. 

“To hold money over someone’s head like that, especially with me being as young as I was – that was crazy to me. So that’s why I was glad to be a part of this, to stick up for everybody,” said Annie Nelson.

A federal judge approved the settlement but court documents state a final approval hearing will be held on May 13, 2024.

ArchCity Defenders is asking class members to update and or verify their mailing addresses as soon as possible to they will be able to receive their payments once the settlement is approved. 

Similar lawsuits have been settled in Jennings, Normandy, Edmundson, Maplewood and St. Ann. Litigation is still pending against Ferguson.