ACLU of Missouri Holds Annual Meeting and Reception June 20

May 19, 2015

You are invited to the ACLU of Missouri's Annual Meeting from 3-4 p.m., followed by a reception, on Saturday, June 20, at our Kansas City and St. Louis offices.

The meeting is open to the public, but members of the ACLU have the power to elect our board leadership and lay the foundation for future civil liberties victories in Missouri! Attendees will also receive an update on the work of the ACLU of Missouri.

Attendance at the 2015 Annual Meeting is free, but we ask that you RSVP to dread@aclu-mo.org if you plan to attend.

2015 ACLU of Missouri Annual Meeting
Saturday, June 20 from 3 to 4 p.m.
Immediately followed by a reception.

ACLU of Missouri's Kansas City Office
3601 Main Street
Kansas City, MO 64111

ACLU of Missouri's St. Louis Office
454 Whittier Street
St. Louis, MO 63108

We hope to see you on Saturday, June 20!

2015 Legislative Session Comes to a Close

May 15, 2015

by Sarah Rossi, Director of Advocacy and Policy for the ACLU of Missouri

IT’S OVER.

So what do we have to show for it?

HB 187: Immigrant Rights

A bill that would have forced immigrant students who live in, work in, and contribute to the economy of Missouri to pay international tuition at Missouri colleges and universities is dead. The ACLU lobbied hard against this bill, particularly the international tuition provision. Legislators listened, and those who care deeply about an educated workforce and making Missouri schools appealing to students from all backgrounds refrained from pushing this bill to passage. While another, less detrimental, anti-immigrant student bill is on the Governor’s desk; we will be asking him for a VETO and will continue to advocate for greater educational access for immigrant students.

HB 104: LGBT Equality

The Student Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) bill, which would have given religious student groups special rights on campuses —  namely to discriminate against religious minorities and LGBT students, died while waiting to be discussed on the Senate floor. The ACLU led the charge against this bill. Campus non-discrimination policies exist for a reason. Public schools and the student groups that receive public funds should be open to all students. Religious organizations should not receive exemptions from rules that every other group must follow. Not only is that unequal treatment, it is a violation of the separation of church and state put forth in the First Amendment.

HB 762: Police Accountability

A former law enforcement officer’s bill, to restrict the state from mandating body cameras and to make closed records of all body camera and dashboard camera footage, died one step before it hit the Senate floor. The ACLU, along with various press associations, lobbied against HB 762 every step of the way. The ACLU argued that the bill was too broad, too fast, and did not serve the interests of the public, the press, or those who may be the target of violent police action. An offer was made to work with the Representative who sponsored this bill during the interim in order to find a compromise that will address the concerns of all parties. We sincerely hope he takes advantage of that offer.  

SB 93: Free Speech on Public Campuses

This bill creates the Campus Free Expression Act to protect free expression on the campuses of public institutions of higher education. We had great advocacy support from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and the Alliance Defending Freedom. This bill passed with almost unanimous bipartisan support. Student groups will no longer have to worry about being cordoned off on in a remote part of campus and will be able to proclaim their messages widely.

HB 120: Privacy

Of the two bills that the ACLU helped draft and advocate for, HB 120 made it the furthest. This bill would have protected students and employees from schools and employers snooping around personal social media accounts. The ACLU worked with legislators to include extensive privacy protections for students, alongside the provisions protecting employees. After two successful hearings in the House, nearly unanimous bipartisan support on the House floor, and another successful hearing in the Senate, the bill stalled on the Senate floor and was not brought up for debate. We will try to pass this legislation again next year, building on this session’s momentum.

A more extensive legislative report is coming soon, but rest assured that the ACLU worked hard for our members and supporters from the first gaveling in of the legislature, to the moment of sine die. This was a very successful legislative session for civil libertarians, with very few bad bills hitting the Governor’s desk, while gaining forward momentum on some key ACLU legislation. 

Mustafa Abdullah to Receive ADC's Excellence in Advocacy Award

May 13, 2015

The  American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) announced today that they will present the "Excellence in Advocacy Award" to Mustafa Abdullah, program associate at the ACLU of Missouri. The award will be given at the annual Civil Rights Luncheon on Friday, June 12, as part of the 35th Anniversary ADC National Convention in Washington, DC. 

The ADC stated that Mustafa Abdullah has demonstrated a strong commitment to civil engagement through advocacy, interfaith work, and community organizing. He is a co-founder of Muslims for Ferguson, an organization of American Muslims who are committed to seeking justice for Michael Brown and supporting relevant important campaigns in Ferguson. 

When the law enforcement cracked down on protesters in Ferguson last summer following the death of Michael Brown, Mustafa organized the Muslim community to act in solidarity with the issues facing the African-American community in Ferguson.

“In seeking justice in Ferguson, I was motivated by the verses in the Qur’an that say if one part of the body is in pain, then the whole body wakes up in a fevered state,"  said Mustafa Abdullah. "Muslims for Ferguson rallied to acknowledge the pain of the Brown family and the entire community to support them in their grief and frustration.”

Past recipients of the Excellence in Advocacy Award include Hilary Shelton of the NAACP, Richard Cohen of the Southern Poverty Law Center, and advocates from the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF), the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), the Asian American Justice Center (AAJC), and the Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC).

Federal Court Sends ACLU’s Grand Juror Secrecy Case to State Court

May 05, 2015

On May 5, U.S. District Judge Rodney W. Sippel decided to abstain in the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri’s lawsuit on behalf of Grand Juror Doe. The Court found that Grand Juror Doe may ask the St. Louis County Circuit Court to be released from the oath of secrecy based on St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch’s “disclosures and the unique circumstances of this case.” The court also found that Missouri laws might be interpreted to allow Doe to speak.

“I find that Missouri courts should be given the opportunity to resolve this issue before Juror pursues a federal constitutional challenge,” wrote Judge Sippel. “There are state court remedies available to give Juror the relief she seeks. Abstention will not impact Juror’s ability to litigate her right to speak about her grand jury experience.”

“The court refused Mr. McCulloch’s request to rule in his favor on the merits of Grand Juror Doe’s First Amendment claim,” explains Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri. “Instead, the judge found that under Missouri state law there might be remedies available to give Grand Juror Doe the right to speak freely, without a federal court intervening to decide the constitutionality of Missouri’s statutes. “In the coming days, we will determine how this case will continue to move forward.”

Doe, who served on the grand jury which investigated the killing of Michael Brown by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson, filed suit against Robert McCulloch, prosecuting attorney for St. Louis County, on Jan. 5. The ACLU of Missouri represented Grand Juror Doe because, without permission from a court, it is a crime for grand jurors to discuss their service. McCulloch was named as the defendant since he would be the person to bring charges against Doe.

“Juror Doe has a unique perspective and can give the public a fuller picture of how our government works,” explains Rothert. “Juror Doe is eager to speak about race relations and grand jury proceedings in Missouri and we are working diligently to make that happen.”

“The racial injustices uncovered after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown permeate multiple levels of government, and we need transparency, accountability and reforms for effective change,” says Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri. “The public and our legislators, who are considering several bills that propose solutions, deserve a complete view of how the grand jury process working in the Darren Wilson investigation and it would be valuable for Juror Doe to add to the conversation.”

Cooperating attorneys on this case are Eric Sowers, Ferne Wolf and Joshua Pierson, from Sowers & Wolf Attorneys at Law. A copy of the complaint and other court documents can be found on the ACLU of Missouri website.

ACLU of Missouri Hires Jacob Beaumont to Lead Philanthropy Efforts

May 04, 2015

Jacob Beaumont assumed his new role as director of philanthropy for the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri in April of 2015. He is responsible for overseeing the implementation and advancement of all aspects of the organization’s development program.

Prior to joining the ACLU of Missouri, Jacob worked in politics, serving as senior staff to candidates at the local, state and federal levels in Kansas and Nevada. He has worked extensively in campaign finance and campaign management, helping to ensure that candidates at every level were not only able to raise the funds needed to run for office, but also help implement those resources in the most impactful way.

Previously, Jacob has served as development director to Headquarters Counseling Center—a non-profit that provides crisis counseling services—and as a consultant to non-profits and political organizations across the United States, helping fledgling campaigns and struggling organizations find financial stability, and putting them on the path to sustainable growth.

Jacob earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science and History from the University of Kansas.

ACLU Statement on the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals' Decision to Delay Marriage Equality Hearings

April 29, 2015

The following joint statement was issued by the ACLU of Nebraska, the ACLU of Missouri, and the national ACLU regarding the 8th Circuit Court of appeals decision to delay the hearing on cases involving challenges to the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage until after a U.S. Supreme Court decision on the same issue, which is expected by the end of June. The ACLU is counsel in the Missouri and Nebraska cases, which, along with cases from North Dakota and Arkansas, were scheduled for oral arguments on May 12.

"Every day that same-sex couples continue to be denied the protections and dignity that come with marriage causes serious harms to families. But after yesterday’s arguments in the marriage cases at the Supreme Court, we are hopeful that very soon all Americans will have the freedom to marry the person they love regardless of their sexual orientation. As the landscape rapidly changes, more and more businesses, faith leaders and policy makers see that the discrimination enshrined in the constitutions of Nebraska and Missouri is contradictory to Midwestern values. Same-sex couples have waited too long for their love to be recognized. The ACLU will continue our efforts to end discrimination faced daily by gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Midwesterners."

Category: LGBT Rights

ACLU of Missouri Releases Mobile Justice App for iPhones

April 27, 2015

Today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri released the iPhone version of a smart phone app called the ACLU of Missouri Mobile Justice app — an empowerment tool for those who feel their civil rights are being violated by law enforcement officers.

The iPhone app, which can be downloaded for free through the ACLU of Missouri website, mirrors the Mobile Justice Android app released in November. They have three main functions and Know Your Rights information. Record allows citizens to capture exchanges between police officers and themselves or other community members in audio and video files that are automatically sent to the ACLU of Missouri. Witness sends out an alert when someone is stopped by police so that community members can move toward the location and document the interaction. Report gives the app user the option to complete an incident report and send it directly to the ACLU of Missouri for review. Know Your Rights provides an overview of what rights protect you when you are stopped by law enforcement officers.

The Mobile Justice Android app, released last November, has been downloaded approximately 2,500 times. “We’re expecting that number to double quickly because we had a lot of people asking when the iPhone version would be ready,” said Sarah Rossi, ACLU of Missouri director of advocacy and policy.

“Mobile Justice can be an effective and empowering tool for Missourians who want to exercise their right to record the police,” Rossi adds. “It also offers a handy ‘Know Your Rights’ section with a link to our website.” So far, the affiliate has received 571 videos and 118 reports.

A grant from the National ACLU funded the development of the Mobile Justice app by Quadrant 2 – the same developer that created the Stop and Frisk Watch app for the New York Civil Liberties Union to address racial profiling. Quadrant 2 also released Mobile Justice apps for ACLU affiliates in Mississippi, Oregon and Nebraska and is working with other ACLU affiliates across the country to do the same. The ACLU of Missouri is the first to issue the iOS version of Mobile Justice.

Learn more about the ACLU of Missouri Mobile Justice app and download it through a link on our Mobile Justice homepage.

Category: Racial Justice

ACLU Files Suit Regarding Police Harassment in a North St. Louis Municipality

April 21, 2015

Years before Ferguson erupted in the summer of 2014, the St. Louis NAACP had been receiving reports of corruption and abusive policing in St. Louis County municipalities and reached out to the American Civil Liberties Union for help. Today, the ACLU of Missouri filed a lawsuit against Pine Lawn on behalf of Adrian Wright, who was falsely arrested.

Wright was critical of former Pine Lawn Mayor Sylvester Caldwell, who used Wright’s mug shot in campaign literature to discredit his endorsement of Caldwell’s opponent for mayor. “I was wrongly accused of running a stop sign and failing to yield to a fictional emergency vehicle, threatened with a taser and arrested by a Pine Lawn police officer,” said Wright, an 80-year-old who was the Pine Lawn mayor before Caldwell. “Although all charges were dismissed, city officials ensured that my ‘perp walk’ was recorded for broadcast by a local TV station and Sylvester Caldwell later published my mug shot in campaign literature to falsely portray me as a criminal and discredit my endorsement of Caldwell’s mayoral opponent.”

“The misuse of police is a problem that is not unique to Pine Lawn,” said Adolphus Pruitt, president of the St. Louis NAACP. “While this is an extreme example, we believe there are other instances that are certainly as bad as what we’ve seen in Ferguson.”

“People become police officers out of a desire to protect and serve the community, not to oppress residents and do the bidding of the financial or political city masters,” said Jeffrey A. Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri. “The NAACP and the ACLU are looking at, and coming after, municipalities that have lost their way.” 

Pictured, from the left, are plaintiff Adrian Wright, Mrs. Wright and Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri.

Court Agrees Records of Police Misconduct Must be Disclosed

April 14, 2015

ST. LOUIS  – Today, the Missouri Court of Appeals agreed that the public has a right to review records related to the 2006 World Series ticket-scalping scandal. The court upheld the trial court’s ruling that police officers could not invoke a right to privacy as a means to conceal documents which pertain to misconduct while performing their official duties.

The Court ruled that documents the officers sought to hide from the public are exactly the type of information the Sunshine Law was intended to cover.  Once again, the police department has been ordered to release all of the records the ACLU requested back in 2007.

Court documents for Chasnoff v. St. Louis Police can be found on the ACLU of Missouri website.  

“The Sunshine Law is intended to bring transparency to government actions. Today’s decision allows the law to work,” explains Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri. “When government officials engage in on-the-job misconduct, the public has a right to know what happened and how it was investigated.”

“The Sunshine Law is good in principle, but it is only effective if it is put in practice,” says Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri. “The ACLU is here to fight when the government is determined to hide public records from the public.”

Category: Open Government

Larry Flynt Allowed to Ask for Execution Records to be Unsealed

April 07, 2015

ST. LOUIS  –  Today, United States Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Publisher Larry Flynt has the right to intervene in a case challenging Missouri’s execution protocol. Flynt seeks to challenge the sealing of judicial records.

In November 2013, the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri filed a motion on Flynt’s behalf. This was one of several efforts to gain information about the state’s execution protocol.

Flynt, who was paralyzed in 1978 by Joseph Franklin, had advocated that Franklin should be punished by spending the remainder of his life in prison, rather than be killed by the state and put out of his misery. Missouri executed Franklin Nov. 20, 2013. Missouri Press Association and several other media organizations filed friend of the court briefs in support of Flynt.

Court documents for Larry Flynt v. Lombardi can be found on the ACLU of Missouri website.  

“The public needs to know what is being done in its name and these judicial records will answer a lot of questions that we and members of the media have been asking,” explains Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri. 

“The ACLU plays a unique role by working through the courts to ensure the public has access to the information we need to be an effective check on government power,” said Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri. “A state’s execution protocol should never be hidden from the public by sealing court documents. When Missouri kills people in our name, the public must know if the manner is ethical, or cruel and unusual.”