ACLU Sues Ferguson-Florissant School District

December 18, 2014

The American Civil Liberties Union today filed a federal lawsuit against Missouri's Ferguson-Florissant School District, charging the district's electoral system is locking African-Americans out of the political process.

The case, brought on behalf of the Missouri NAACP and African-American residents, is challenging the district’s at-large system used to elect school board members. The at-large system violates the federal Voting Rights Act by diluting African-American voting strength, the complaint charges.

African-Americans constitute a minority of the district’s voting age population, and under the at-large system they are systematically unable to elect candidates of their choice. The suit seeks to allow voters to cast a ballot for an individual school board member who resides in their district and better represents the community.

“The current system locks out African-American voters,” said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “It dilutes the voting power of the African-American community and severely undermines their voice in the political process.”

The Ferguson-Florissant School District has a history fraught with discrimination against African-American citizens. The district, which spans several municipalities, was created by a 1975 desegregation order intended to remedy the effects of discrimination against African-American students. Yet, 40 years later, there is just one African-American member on the seven-member board in a district where African-Americans constitute 77 percent of the student body.

This systemic lack of representation is why plaintiff Redditt Hudson got involved in this case. He is a former St. Louis police officer who lives in Florissant with his wife and two daughters, both of whom are students in the Ferguson-Florissant School District.

“We’ve seen African-Americans excluded from making decisions that affect our children,” said Hudson, who works for the NAACP. “We need to be able to advocate for an education that will put our kids first and not political agendas.”

The case, Missouri NAACP v. Ferguson-Florissant School District was filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri. The complaint can be found on the ACLU of Missouri website at www.aclu-mo.org/voting-rights-lawsuit.

“It is a core American value that everyone has the right to cast a vote that counts,” said Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri. “This lawsuit is a positive step toward addressing racial inequities in our education system that will affect not only Ferguson, but all of Missouri.”

ACLU Files Suit on Behalf of Reporter Who Was Arrested in Ferguson

December 16, 2014

ST. LOUIS  – Today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri filed a civil rights action against St. Louis County and police officer James Vollmer for violating the constitutional rights of Gerald “Trey” Yingst, a News2Share reporter and producer. He is seeking judgment against the County for its failure to train and supervise Officer Vollmer and for defamation.

On Nov. 22, Yingst was arrested in Ferguson. Police claimed he was standing in the street and failed to disperse after being asked by law enforcement to do so. However, several eye-witness accounts and video recordings of the incident show that Yingst was standing on the sidewalk exercising his First Amendment right to record police at the time of his arrest. This occurred one day after the ACLU of Missouri had secured court orders against the Missouri State Highway Patrol, the County of St. Louis and the City of Ferguson requiring that the police respect the First Amendment rights of journalists.

“It is troubling that the First Amendment rights of the media continued to be trampled despite multiple court orders prohibiting such government overreach,” said Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri.  

“Members of the press should be treated with respect, not harassed and arrested for doing their jobs,” said Jeffrey Mittman, ACLU of Missouri executive director. “After all, the media serve as our eyes on the ground and we all depend on them to have unfettered access to events as they unfold in our communities.” 

 In a related case, Abdullah v. County of St. Louis, et al., a federal court issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting law enforcement from arresting those standing on sidewalks. Related documents and more information for both cases are on the ACLU of Missouri website.  Videos of Yingst getting arrested can be found at: http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/55733160 (at 35:40 mark) and http://m.ustream.tv/recorded/55733929?rmalang=en_US (at 1:15 mark).

Missouri to Celebrate International Human Rights Day by Executing Inmate with Intellectual Disability

December 09, 2014

by Sarah Rossi, Director of Advocacy and Policy

December 10th is International Human Rights Day, a day that recognizes globally the human rights to which we are all entitled. It is a call for peace, a call for cooperation, a call for freedom, equality and dignity. It is also a call to end violence, especially violence by governments against their people. On December 10th, when all across the world there will be events to celebrate International Human Rights Day, the state of Missouri will put to death by lethal injection an inmate with intellectual disabilities.

The arguments against the death penalty are well known.

It kills innocent people: since 1973, nearly 150 people have been released from death row after their innocence was proven.It is too costly: special death row housing and legal fees cost state governments exponentially more than life sentences.Its application is unfair: wealthy people are more likely to escape a death sentence; people of color are far more likely to be sentenced to death especially if the victim is white.It is not a deterrent: states with the death penalty have the highest murder rates.

But most importantly, the argument against the death penalty for Paul Goodwin is that in 2001 the Supreme Court of the United States banned the execution of individuals who are mentally disabled.

Paul Goodwin was born into a family plagued by alcohol and violence. He was raised by an abusive father, he acted as a protector to his mother and he struggled through most of his early life. Those who knew Paul could see that he was clearly affected by intellectual disabilities – he could not excel at the same rate as other kids. He was held back, provided special services and scored very low on IQ tests. When he was 13 years old his IQ was 72, a number well within the range for sub-average intellectual function. By all accounts, Paul was seen as “simple-minded,” “slow,” and never grew intellectually past childhood.

At the age of 48, Paul has spent the last 15 years of his life in prison and is still seen as a “simple-minded kid” who exhibits childish and immature behavior. Like a child, he does not comprehend the consequences of his actions and is unable to help his defense attorneys articulate his case. Paul is not innocent of his crime, but proponents of the death penalty will cite his guilt as the sole reason for his death sentence, completely disregarding his mental capacity.

No person should be put to death at the hands of government, but Missouri continues to administer this inhumane punishment with no regard for the flaws in the system or the directives of this country’s highest court. A person with intellectual disabilities should not be lethally injected, let alone lethally injected on a day when the world is focused on human rights and making a global call for mercy. The state of Missouri should heed that call.  

ACLU Responds to Missouri Legislature's Attempt to Intervene in Marriage Recognition Lawsuit

December 05, 2014

The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri (ACLU of Missouri) has filed its opposition to an attempt to intervene in Barrier v. Vasterling by the Missouri legislature.

“As a state senator, I know full well that the General Assembly and our leaders have bigger issues deserving their attention,” said State Senator Jolie Justus, the Senate Minority leader. “And, as a lawyer, I cannot understand why they would allege that the legislature had any legal standing to intervene.”

“Our statewide elected chief lawyer for the State of Missouri, Attorney General Chris Koster,  made a legal determination that the State of Missouri  should not appeal the court’s decision in  Barrier,” said State Representative Mike  Colona. “That decision rests solely with the office of  Attorney General. We should respect the decision of a co-equal branch of government and we as a General Assembly should not intervene in the legal process without first having debated the issue and authorizing such intervention.”

“This legal maneuvering is an unfortunate waste of time and resources. Both the legal court and the court of public opinion are in agreement that all legal marriages must be recognized by the state of Missouri.  What’s more, actively working to take rights away from loving families is not in keeping with the values of Missourians,” says Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri.

A copy of the ACLU’s opposition can be found on the legal dockets page of the ACLU of Missouri’s website.

 

ACLU Challenges Grain Valley’s Practice of Prosecuting Drivers for Flashing Headlights

December 03, 2014

The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri (ACLU of Missouri) is challenging the City of Grain Valley’s policy of pulling over drivers who use their headlights to send a message to other drivers to slow down and proceed with caution. The suit was filed today in the U.S. District Court, Western District of Missouri, Western Division, on behalf of Jerry L. Jarman, Jr., a resident of Kansas.

While driving in Grain Valley, a suburb of Kansas City, Mr. Jarman observed a speed-trap and flashed his headlights to communicate with other drivers that they should proceed with caution. He was pulled over by a Grain Valley police officer and issued a citation for allegedly “interfering with radar” by flashing headlights at oncoming drivers.

In April, the ACLU of Missouri secured a permanent injunction from U.S. District Judge Henry Autrey against the City of Ellisville, a suburb of St. Louis, for citing drivers who flashed their headlights to warn other drivers of radar ahead.

“Drivers are free to use their First Amendment rights to warn others to drive cautiously and should not be punished for their message,” said Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri. “Traffic laws are made to promote safety, not generate revenue.”

“Flashing headlights is a message that is widely understood, even by new drivers,” explains Jeffrey A. Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri. “The government cannot ticket drivers who have done nothing more than exercise their right to communicate with other drivers.”

A copy of the complaint can be found on the legal dockets page of the ACLU of Missouri’s website.

ACLU Comments on Officer Darren Wilson Grand Jury Decision

November 24, 2014

The grand jury in Ferguson, Mo., decided not to indict Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson on charges in the Aug. 9 shooting death of Michael Brown. The following is reaction from Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri:

“The grand jury’s decision does not negate the fact that Michael Brown’s tragic death is part of an alarming national trend of officers using excessive force against people of color, often during routine encounters. Yet in most cases, the officers and police departments are not held accountable,” said Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri. "While many officers carry out their jobs with respect for the communities they serve, we must confront the profound disconnect and disrespect that many communities of color experience with their local law enforcement. 

“The ACLU will continue to fight for racial justice. We must end the prevailing policing paradigm where police departments are more like occupying forces, imposing their will to control communities. This ‘us’ versus ‘them’ policing antagonizes communities by casting a blanket of suspicion over entire neighborhoods, often under the guise of preventing crime.

“To build trust, we need a democratic system of policing where our communities have an equal say in the way their neighborhoods are policed. Collaboration, transparency and communication between police and communities around the shared goals of equality, fairness and public safety is the path forward.”

ACLU Sends Lincoln College Preparatory Academy Warning About Infringing on Students' Rights

November 24, 2014

KANSAS CITY, MO  – The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri sent a letter advising Lincoln College Preparatory Academy to not punish students who participated in a silent protest on Nov. 20.

According to news stories, 12 students were given a Saturday detention for standing and holding their hands up in a sign of surrender when Governor Nixon gave a speech at their school.

“Instead of punishing students, Lincoln College Prep should applaud the students who exercised their free speech in such a respectful, peaceful and mature manner,” said Sarah Rossi, director of advocacy and policy for the ACLU of Missouri. “It took courage for them to send a message to Gov. Nixon, their teachers and classmates.”  

“The school’s action to punish students violates the First Amendment,” said Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri. “Immediate steps must be taken to correct their wrong-doing.”

“The ACLU of Missouri is paying attention to First Amendment rights not just in the streets of Ferguson, but in schools as well,” explains Jeffrey A. Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri. “To paraphrase the Supreme Court, it is our right to speak freely and promote diversity of ideas which sets us apart from totalitarian regimes.”

The ACLU of Missouri is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization that defends and expands the constitutional rights and civil liberties of all Missourians guaranteed under the United States and Missouri Constitutions, through its litigation, legislative and public education programs. It is an affiliate of the national ACLU.

ACLU Files Suit Against Ozark Fire District for Denying Spousal Benefits

November 24, 2014

SPRINGFIELD, MO  – American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri Legal Director Tony Rothert sent a letter Oct. 8 to Todd A. Johnson of the Ozark Fire District informing him that the district is required to offer spousal benefits to its married employees, regardless of their sexual orientation. Despite state and federal court rulings striking down the 2004 Missouri Constitutional amendment that bans marriage between same-sex couples, the Ozark Fire District refuses to offer equal benefits to same-sex spouses, so today the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri filed a lawsuit on behalf of Andrea “Andi” Mooneyham against the Ozark Fire Protection District.

“After the court’s decision in Barrier v. Vasterling, Missouri law no longer allows government entities to ignore marriages,” said Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri. “Captain Mooneyham puts her life on the line at work and should receive the same benefits to other married firefighters and their families.”  

Category: LGBT Rights

ACLU Statement Regarding the Nov. 22 Arrest of Reporter in Ferguson

November 23, 2014

ST. LOUIS – The ACLU of Missouri is reviewing information regarding the Nov. 22 arrest of Trey Yingst, a News2Share reporter and producer, in Ferguson, Missouri. According to the St. Louis County Police Department, Mr. Yingst was arrested for allegedly standing in the street and failing to disperse after being asked by law enforcement to do so. However, several eye-witness accounts and video recordings of the incident suggest that Mr. Yingst was standing on the sidewalk exercising his First Amendment right to record police at the time of his arrest and it is unclear what legal authority police officers would have had to order him to disperse.

“We are deeply troubled that the First Amendment rights of the media are still being violated in spite of the recent court order we secured against such action by the County of St. Louis,” said Jeffrey Mittman, ACLU of Missouri executive director. “We will continue to monitor the situation and if necessary swiftly pursue aggressive action to ensure that unlawful interference with the press comes to an end.”

“Police are not allowed to threaten to arrest or order individuals to move who are peaceably standing, marching or assembling on public sidewalks in Ferguson. Missouri law enforcement may only ask those assembled on the street or sidewalk to disperse if there are six or more people gathered for an unlawful purpose or if a riot is taking place,” said Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri. “Police have an obligation to protect First Amendment rights, not violate them.”

In response to the repeated attacks on protestors’ and the media’s First Amendment rights since August, the ACLU of Missouri filed a motion for a preliminary injunction in Hussein v. County of Saint Louis, et al., on Friday, Nov. 14. On Nov. 21 United States District Judge John A. Ross granted three court orders against the Missouri State Highway Patrol, the County of St. Louis and the City of Ferguson. In a related case, Abdullah v. County of St. Louis, et al., a federal court issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting law enforcement from arresting those standing on sidewalks. Related documents and more information for both cases are on the ACLU of Missouri website.

The ACLU of Missouri is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization that defends and expands the constitutional rights and civil liberties of all Missourians guaranteed under the United States and Missouri Constitutions, through its litigation, legislative and public education programs. It is an affiliate of the national ACLU.

ACLU Secures Three Court Orders Regarding the Right to Record Police

November 21, 2014

In August attorneys for the Missouri State Highway Patrol, the County of St. Louis and the City of Ferguson signed an agreement with the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri stating that protesters and the media had the right to record law enforcement officers. But, that agreement was disregarded many times in the last few months so the ACLU went back to court last Friday and filed a motion for a preliminary injunction. Today United States District Judge John A. Ross granted three court orders against the Missouri State Highway Patrol, the County of St. Louis and the City of Ferguson.

“We are pleased that there are court orders requiring the police to respect the First Amendment rights of journalists,” said Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri. “With court orders in place, immediate recourse will be available if the freedom of the press is violated.” 

The signed agreement , amended complaint and other documents related to this lawsuit, Mustafa Hussein v. County of Saint Louis, et. al can be found on the ACLU of Missouri website.