ACLU Files Sunshine Law Suit to Obtain FBI Audit

July 16, 2014

The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri (ACLU of Missouri) filed a Sunshine Law suit July 16 against St. Louis County because the County will not release an FBI audit regarding the embezzlement of county funds by Edward Mueth.

The ACLU of Missouri made a Sunshine Law request for the report, along with other related documents on July 2. On July 7, the ACLU received a letter from St. Louis County Counselor Patricia Redington denying the FBI audit report. Media reports later stated that the County asked the U.S. Attorney for permission to comply with the Sunshine Law.

“St. Louis County knows that if there is a question about whether or not records are public under Missouri’s Sunshine Law, the correct procedure is to file a state court proceeding, not ask the U.S. attorney,” explains Tony Rothert, legal director for the ACLU of Missouri. “Failing to ask the Court for guidance is the County’s attempt to skirt the Sunshine Law.”

“It is unfortunate that it is necessary for the ACLU to ask the Court to take action against St. Louis County for violating the Sunshine Law again, but the need for transparency is too important to ignore,” said ACLU of Missouri Executive Director Jeffrey A. Mittman. “If it was important enough for the chief of police to request an outside audit by the federal government and for county officials to know the results of that audit, then the public also has a right to know.”

PPP Poll Shows Missourians Oppose 72-Hour Forced Delay Bill

July 08, 2014

The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri (ACLU of Missouri) released a poll July 8 which shows that 71 percent of Missouri voters want their legislators focusing on jobs and the economy rather than spending more time debating legislation which would force a 72-hour delay on a woman seeking an abortion.

Public Policy Polling (PPP) conducted the poll (summary attached here) of 759 Missouri voters on July 2 and 3, immediately following Gov. Nixon’s veto last week. It found that only 43 percent of Missourians support the legislation, while 50 percent oppose the measure. The data also found that the intensity on this issue is clearly with those opposed to the bill. Fifty-four percent of opponents said how a legislator voted on this bill would impact whether they voted for that lawmaker in November, compared to only 40 percent of bill supporters.

“This poll clearly demonstrates that Missourians oppose this controversial measure,” said ACLU of Missouri Executive Director Jeffrey A. Mittman. “Hard-working Missouri citizens want their elected officials in Jefferson City focused on bread-and-butter economic priorities like jobs, not pushing for more extreme political intrusion into a private medical decision.”

If supporters continue to push for an override, HB 1307 is expected to be one of the more high-profile measures debated in early September when the Missouri General Assembly reconvenes for its annual veto session.

ACLU Challenges Deceptive Ballot Language on HJR 90—the Sham “Early Voting” Ballot Initiative

July 03, 2014

The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri (ACLU of Missouri) filed a petition on behalf of Civil Rights Leader Norman Seay, challenging the deceptive summary statement for a sham early voting constitutional amendment on the Nov. 4 ballot.

The summary statement that would appear on the ballot was written by the General Assembly, instead of the Secretary of State, who generally prepares the language that voters see on their ballots. It says:Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to permit voting in person or by mail for a period of six business days prior to and including Wednesday before the election day in all general elections?

“This is an untrue statement because advance voting will only be allowed after a state appropriation and disbursement of millions of dollars,” explains Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri. “Especially troubling is the fact that this proposed constitutional amendment will appear on the ballot along with a separate citizen initiative that would permit early voting without an appropriation contingency.”

“Citizens gathered signatures to allow early voting, but the legislature is trying to trick the voters with a sham constitutional amendment that intentionally misleads,” says ACLU of Missouri Executive Director Jeffrey A. Mittman. “Instead of throwing up roadblocks, our state representatives need to promote democracy by ensuring everyone can cast a ballot.”

Court documents can be found on the website.

ACLU of Missouri Applauds Nixon Veto of Controversial 72-hour Abortion Bill

July 02, 2014

ST. LOUIS – The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri (ACLU of Missouri) released the following statement in response to Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon vetoing HB 1307, which would have blocked care for a woman needing an abortion in Missouri for three days.

“This bill isn’t about helping women,” said ACLU of Missouri Executive Director Jeffrey Mittman. “This legislation is simply further intrusion by politicians into a woman’s private medical decisions. Governor Nixon deserves our thanks for continuing to focus on important issues such as jobs and the economy, unlike legislators who insist on wasting time and money pursuing their own extreme political agendas. Governor Nixon’s veto will help protect the health of women in Missouri.”

Department of Corrections to Release Unredacted Documents to the ACLU

June 25, 2014

This week a judge in Missouri became the first to rule that a government entity that cites one reason for not producing Sunshine Law requested documents cannot come back and cite other exemptions when sued.

Judge Jon Beetem, Cole County Circuit Court, noted that to find otherwise would be “contrary to public policy” and would “discourage citizens from… challeng[ing] the exemptions claimed by a government entity that withholds documents, if, after a lawsuit is filed, the government could cite additional exemptions.”

In March 2012 the ACLU of Missouri requested materials related to a complaint from a state prisoner who said a Missouri Department of Corrections (DOC) employee intentionally damaged his Quran during a cell search. DOC refused to release the materials, citing a single exemption from a Sunshine Law.

The court found by citing only one exemption as a reason for withholding the documents, DOC waived all additional exemptions. Because the claimed exemption was not valid, DOC has agreed to turn over 14 unredacted documents responsive to the ACLU’s request and pay the ACLU’s attorneys’ fees and costs.

“The average citizen does not have the resources to challenge Sunshine Law denials, and it was unfair to allow the government to pile on exemptions after a lawsuit is filed,” explains Tony Rothert, Legal Director of the ACLU of Missouri. “The judge’s ruling helps level the playing field for the vast majority of citizens who do not have the resources to hit a moving target.”

“The Sunshine Law was created to give the public a window into the activities of our government,” says Jeffrey A. Mittman, the ACLU of Missouri’s executive director. “Instead of looking for ways to fog that window, Missouri’s public bodies need to grant requests for information as required by Chapter 610.”

This judgment and other court documents related to this lawsuit are available on ACLU v. MODOC docket page of the ACLU of Missouri’s website. The requested DOC materials will be placed on this site when they are received.

Join Us for 2014 Annual Meeting on Saturday

June 24, 2014

The ACLU of Missouri's Annual Meeting will be held from 1-3 p.m., on Saturday, June 28, at our St. Louis office. This is the meeting where members elect the directors and board of trustee members to oversee our affiliate. Attendees will also receive an update on the work of the ACLU of Missouri and one of the couples in our marriage recognition lawsuit will be on hand to share their story and explain why they joined our efforts.

The 2014 Annual Meeting is free and open to the public, but we ask that you R.S.V.P. to dread@aclu-mo.org if you plan to attend. Light refreshments will be served.

2014 ACLU of Missouri Annual Meeting
Saturday, June 28 from 1 to 3 p.m.
ACLU of Missouri's St. Louis Office
454 Whittier Street
St. Louis, MO 63108

We hope to see you on Saturday, June 28!

Police Must Allow Second Amendment Advocate to Post Video

June 18, 2014

Settlement Obtained for ACLU Client

Police Officer Jerry Bledsoe sent a written apology to Second Amendment advocate Jordan Klaffer, and agreed to pay damages, court costs and attorneys’ fees. The Village of Kelso, where Bledsoe works, also assured Klaffer in writing that they will instruct police officers to not seek court orders to censor individuals who are critical of police officers’ actions. In response, on June 18, Klaffer and the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri asked the United States District Court to dismiss the First Amendment lawsuit filed in February on Klaffer’s behalf.

Klaffer is a gun rights advocate who frequently fires his weapons at objects on private property. On May 1, 2013, Jerry Bledsoe, a police officer, confronted Klaffer while responding to a noise complaint. Klaffer videotaped the interaction, where Bledsoe issued an ultimatum to Klaffer to surrender his guns or be arrested. Klaffer refused to give up his guns and was arrested for disturbing the peace.

To express his opinion that Officer Bledsoe was using his position to harass him for exercising his Second Amendment rights, Klaffer posted recordings of the encounter on social media and Officer Bledsoe retaliated by obtaining a court order that prevented Mr. Klaffer from posting videos, pictures, and text data criticizing Officer Bledsoe on the Internet.

“Government officials cannot abuse their power by ordering the censorship of material that is critical of their actions,” explains Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri. “Censorship of criticism of police officers is an affront to the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech.”

“This is an important win for First Amendment freedoms,” says Jeffrey A. Mittman, the ACLU of Missouri’s executive director. “It is a reminder for all police departments that citizens have a right to record public interactions with police officers and share those recordings freely.”

A copy of the complaint, and a link to Mr. Klaffer’s YouTube video, are available on the docket page of the ACLU of Missouri’s website.

Judge Rules Public has an Interest in How Police Investigate Themselves

June 12, 2014

St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Robert Dierker released his decision late on June 11, 2014, ruling that the St. Louis City Police must release documents requested by John Chasnoff pertaining to internal affairs department investigations of the 2006 World Series ticket scalping scandal.

According to the decision, "The Court finds that the IAD investigation and its results are matters of substantial public interest and importance, and that disclosure of the records at issue in this case is likely to enhance public confidence in the internal disciplinary procedures of the Police Department, whereas continued closure is likely to injure the Department's reputation in the community."

Judge Dierker ruled that the ACLU cannot see all of the documents at this time because some of the officers still have the opportunity to appeal the release of their records. The records that were released pertain to officers who did not appear for trial on April 9, 2014. The decision can be found on the ACLU of Missouri's website.

International Human Rights Body Tells U.S. to Stop Winfield Execution

June 09, 2014

On Friday evening, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights sent precautionary measures to the federal government and the Missouri government, asking that the June 18 execution of John Winfield be halted pending an investigation by the Commission into the secrecy surrounding the source and quality of the lethal injection drugs to be used in Mr. Winfield's execution and the potential for extreme suffering in their administration. If Mr. Winfield's execution goes forward, it will most certainly violate international law against torture, cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.

The Commission's precautionary measures were prompted by a petition from the ACLU. The petition provides a concise summary of how compounded pentobarbitol, which is to be used on Mr. Winfield, has caused cruel and unusual effects in other prisoners executed in this country, including the horrific execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma. The petition also explains how the Missouri state government has concealed the source of Missouri's pentobarbitol, the state's compounding process, and its participants.

In May, the ACLU sent a similar petition to the Commission on behalf of Russell Bucklew, who was scheduled to be executed on May 13 in Missouri, and Charles Warner, the next prisoner to be executed in Oklahoma after Mr. Lockett. On May 20, the Commission sent precautionary measures to the federal government and the governments of Missouri and Oklahoma to halt the executions. Mr. Bucklew's execution was stayed by the Supreme Court.

ACLU Files Suit to Defend Right to Record Police

June 03, 2014

Last August, Kyle Hamilton used his mobile phone to document an interaction between police officers and a distraught woman on Main Street in St. Charles. A mounted police officer grabbed Hamilton by his shirt collar as he was recording. Another officer threatened to arrest Hamilton, took his phone, viewed and deleted the recordings, and then ordered him to leave.

Representing Hamilton, the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri (ACLU of Missouri) filed a lawsuit today against the City of St. Charles and the police officers.

“The First Amendment means less if police can grab and destroy a recording of them performing their duties in public,” explains Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri.

“The government works for us, so we have the right to record public officials to insure they are doing their job properly,” says Jeffrey A. Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri. “The ACLU has a long history of defending this kind of check to prevent abuse of government power.”

The complaint can be found on the Hamilton v. St. Charles docket page on ACLU of Missouri’s website at www.aclu-mo.org.