February 12, 2016
Jeffrey Mittman, Executive Director of the ACLU of Missouri, released the following statement regarding the Ferguson City Council vote on the proposed consent decree with the United States Department of Justice:
We are extraordinarily frustrated that, by rejecting the Department of Justice consent decree, the Ferguson City Council has chosen to kick the can down the road again with more bureaucratic delays.
The people of Ferguson are going to get justice. The only question for the Council is whether they want to waste time and money -- the money of their own taxpayers who have been demanding fair and equal treatment from their government.
The ACLU of Missouri remains committed to fighting for the people of Ferguson so the law is followed, immediately and without delay. Enough is enough.
January 25, 2016
Friday evening, the United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri issued a preliminary injunction in Free the Nipple, et al., v. City of Springfield. The injunction stops Springfield from enforcing a discriminatory provision in the City’s indecent exposure law that made it illegal for women to show any portion of their breasts beneath the areola as an act of protest.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri filed the suit on Oct. 26 following the plaintiffs’ August protest in which they appeared at Park Central Square without shirts, but with their nipples covered. They did so to decry how men and women were treated differently under Springfield’s previous indecent exposure ordinance. Under the previous law, women were prohibited from showing their nipples, but men were not. A bare majority of the Springfield City Council responded by repealing that ordinance and enacting another one that made it a crime to show “the female breast below a point immediately above the top of the areola[.]” However, the ordinance exempted performances for adult entertainment.
“We are pleased that the Women of Springfield are now free from the discriminatory language that objectified their bodies and, in doing so, stifled their political voice,” said Jeffrey A. Mittman, ACLU of Missouri Executive Director.
“The protections afforded by the First Amendment are not limited to speech that is deemed palatable or acceptable by the City nor are they intended to be exercised differently for women than for men,” explains Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri
Copies of the court documents can be found in the dockets section on the ACLU of Missouri website.
January 11, 2016
A federal trial gets underway today over voting rights and the effects of race discrimination in the Ferguson-Florissant School District. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Missouri is challenging the Ferguson-Florissant School District's at-large electoral system, charging it dilutes the votes of African-Americans in violation of the Voting Rights Act.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of the Missouri NAACP and African-American residents, aims to allow voters to cast their ballots for an individual school board member who resides in their neighborhood and better represents their community, instead of casting votes district wide.
“This case will help right decades of systemic racially disparate treatment caused by government policies that have intentionally disadvantaged the African-American community and created economic, educational, voting and other inequalities,” said Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri. “By using the federal Voting Rights Act, we have a powerful tool to address these inequalities by giving the residents of the district more control over their own community.”
The Ferguson-Florissant area has a long history of racial discrimination. The school district itself was created by a 1975 federal desegregation order intended to remedy the effects of discrimination against African-American students. Yet, over 40 years later, only two of the seven school board members are African-American — this in a district where African-Americans comprise nearly 80 percent of the student body. The area also suffers from severe patterns of racial inequality across a wide spectrum of other socioeconomic indicators, including income, employment, and criminal justice.
“The Ferguson-Florissant School District’s unlawful at-large system leaves African-Americans out of the electoral process and out from making decisions about their community,” said Tony Rothert, an attorney with the ACLU of Missouri. “Ultimately this unfair system hurts the children who attend schools there.”
The lawsuit,Missouri NAACP v. Ferguson-Florissant School District, was filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri in St. Louis. The trial is expected to last a week.
CONTACT: Mindy Mazur, for ACLU of Missouri, 573.999.9245, firstname.lastname@example.org
Inga Sarda-Sorensen, ACLU National, 212-284-7347, email@example.com
More information is at: http://www.aclu-mo.org/legal-docket/missouri-naacp-v-ferguson-florissant-school-district/
January 05, 2016
The Circuit Court of Cole County ruled that the Missouri Department of Corrections (MODOC) knowingly violated the Sunshine Law by refusing to provide information related to the state’s execution witness selection process.
The ACLU of Missouri sued to obtain copies of requests by the public or the media to witness executions, the MODOC’s responses to those requests, and all records indicating the actual witnesses to executions over the past 12 months. Initially, MODOC released a handful of heavily censored documents. Following the news that potential execution witness candidates are first asked their position on the death penalty, the ACLU sought the requests to determine if MODOC was selecting witnesses in an impartial manner.
“The Missouri Department of Corrections continues to knowingly violate the law in order to prevent the public from seeing how it carries out executions. Every Missourian should be concerned that the Department is taking lives in their name, without transparency or oversight,” explains Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri.
Copies of the court documents can be found on the case docket page.
January 05, 2016
Today, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Missouri, in conjunction with the Don’t Shoot Coalition and other community partners, announced the filing of The Fair and Impartial Policing Act, bipartisan legislation sponsored by Senator Jamilah Nasheed (D-St. Louis) and Representative Shamed Dogan (R-Ballwin).
The Fair and Impartial Policing Actaims to ensure that all Missourians are treated fairly by the government by enabling fair, positive, and protective police practices. The Act would expand reporting requirements, track pedestrian stops, require training on biased policing, and enact measures to hold Missouri’s law enforcement agencies and officers accountable when they use biased policing practices.
“Missourians of all communities deserve to have equal treatment under the law,” said Senator Nasheed. “The Fair and Impartial Policing Actis a step towards balancing an inequity that must be addressed.”
“Transparency is the friend, not the enemy of good policing,” explains Representative Dogan. “The Fair and Impartial Policing Actwill provide stronger analysis and the statistics necessary to recognize and applaud those who protect and serve all communities equally.”
“This bill is a commonsense measure that offers real solutions and gets us closer to justice for all Missourians,” said Jeffrey Mittman, Executive Director of the ACLU of Missouri. “We look forward to seeing this legislation continue to gain bipartisan support and ultimately be signed into law.”
For the past 15 years, Missouri’s Attorney General’s annual vehicle stops report has indicated that African Americans are almost twice as likely to be stopped, searched, and arrested as white drivers. The 2014 report stated that African-Americans were stopped at a rate 66 percent greater than expected, based on their proportion of the population of people aged 16 and older and were nearly two times more likely to be searched than whites. Hispanics were also nearly two times more likely than whites to be searched.
Additional documents can be found here: http://www.aclu-mo.org/legislation/2016-legislative-efforts/.
December 10, 2015
Over the course of seven months, Cole County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Richardson denied all three of Mr. Aaron Malin’s requests for public records on the basis that his office’s documents are “closed to the public” and that compiling and providing them would be “unduly burdensome.” Today, the ACLU of Missouri and Dave Roland, a public interest attorney, filed a Sunshine Law suit against the Prosecutor on Mr. Malin’s behalf.
On April 1, 2015, Mr. Malin made his first request to the Cole County Prosecutor’s office for records of correspondence between the Prosecuting Attorney and the MUSTANG drug task force. On October 22, he made his second request for County indictments issued since July 2014 regarding the sale of narcotics in public housing. On October 30, Mr. Malin requested any open records inquiries received by the Prosecutor’s Office since January 1, 2015 and the office’s corresponding responses. Richardson denied all three requests on the basis that compiling and providing the records would be “unduly burdensome.”
“The Sunshine Law exists to keep our government and our public servants accountable to the people,” explained Dave Roland, public interest attorney and co-counsel on the case. "The law does not allow Prosecuting Attorneys to exempt themselves from the transparency the people have demanded."
“The Sunshine Law helps shine a light where those who stand opposed to open government don’t want us to look. The ACLU of Missouri will remain vigilant at fighting the disturbing trend of Prosecuting Attorneys failing in their duty to uphold the rule of law,” said Jeffrey A. Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri.
Court documents can be found here.
December 03, 2015
On November 7, 2015, Bobby Honicutt, a 61-year old Springfield resident, was threatened with criminal charges after silently holding a sign on a public sidewalk that read “Trying to Support My Sick Wife| Please help.” Today, the ACLU of Missouri filed a lawsuit against the City of Springfield on Mr. Honicutt’s behalf.
Unable to secure steady full-time employment after the recession, Mr. Honicutt made the difficult decision to solicit contributions in order to support his wife, who suffers from congestive heart failure and needs costly medical care. First, he went to City Hall to ask for guidance on how to comply with the law where he received a document interpreting the city’s panhandling ordinance. It stated it was lawful to hold signs quietly on city sidewalks as long as passersby were not verbally solicited for donations.
On November 7, 2015, Mr. Honicutt was holding his sign on a public sidewalk when an officer threatened him with a criminal citation on the basis that the city did not permit even passive panhandling and wanted to eliminate panhandlers because they make some people uncomfortable. Two days later, Mr. Honicutt sent a letter to his Springfield City Council representative seeking clarification. His letter was never answered.
“Springfield’s panhandling ordinance is both confusing and overreaching in that it states it does not intend to limit any person’s constitutional rights and then proceeds to profoundly restrict acts that are well-established examples of free speech,” explains Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri.
What happened to Mr. Honicutt is not an isolated incident. A couple weeks earlier, a Springfield attorney received a citation for panhandling after he held a sign and accepted donations for the American Cancer Society following the cancer-related death of his friend. Following an ACLU of Missouri lawsuit (Hill v. City of Bolivar), the nearby City of Bolivar recently repealed its panhandling ordinance, which included excessive restrictions on similar speech.
“For people like Mr. Honicutt, free speech means the difference between caring for an ailing loved one, honoring the memory of a friend, or going without,” said Jeffrey A. Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri. “Instead of attempting to shield pedestrians from seeing the vulnerable among us this holiday season, Springfield should revise its ordinance so that it no longer shields those most in need from the protection of the First Amendment.”
Court documents can be found on our website: http://www.aclu-mo.org/legal-docket/hornicutt-v-city-of-springfield/.
November 24, 2015
The ACLU of Missouri mourns the passing of former General Counsel Don Wolff. Current Board President, Brad Pierce, served with Mr. Wolff and shares these thoughts:
REMEBRANCES OF DON WOLFF – AUTHENTIC CIVIL LIBERTIES AND JAZZ HERO
When I first joined the Board of the ACLU of Eastern Missouri, back in the late ‘80s, and was the new kid on the block, Don Wolff was already a legend: an outstanding lawyer and champion of civil rights and civil liberties. Some folks referred to him as “The Lion.” And he was. As our general counsel, he was always available and ready to advise us, provide guidance, and to jump right in when needed, whether it was just a phone call or letter to the “right person,” or to represent our clients in court. In recognition of his outstanding contributions to the organization and our mission, in 1998, we presented Don with the Affiliate’s Civil Liberties Award.
I was also very impressed with Don’s appreciation for and his dedication to Jazz as a true American art form. There were many late nights I spent listening to his “I Love Jazz” show on the various radio venues and media platforms over the years. And just a few months ago he was named a “Jazz Hero” by the Jazz Journalists Association as one who was an advocate, altruist, and an “aider and abettor” of jazz who had a “significant impact” in his local community.
Don is someone we will always remember and admire, not only for his fine legal work, but also for his unmatched compassion for the underdog and as a fierce defender of the Bill of Rights. He truly was – and remains – an authentic Civil Liberties and Jazz Hero.
November 19, 2015
The ACLU of Missouri has filed a Sunshine Law suit on behalf of Aaron M. Malin against the Missouri Association of Community Task Forces (ACT Missouri) for denying a request for the release of public documents.
ACT Missouri fulfilled two previous requests and acknowledged that it was doing so to comply with the Sunshine Law. But, ACT denied a Nov. 18, 2014 request claiming that it is not subject to the law.
ACT Missouri is a “quasi-public governmental body” because its primary purpose is to undertake work pursuant to an agreement with a public governmental body, the Missouri Department of Mental Health, and it accepts appropriated funds directly from a public governmental body. The records of quasi-public governmental bodies are “public records” that, with some exceptions, may be viewed by the public upon request.
“Our client requested documents from a training that was paid for entirely with taxpayer money,” explains Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri. “When the people pay for a private entity to carry out a function on behalf of the people, the people have a right to view the records related to the function that they paid for.”
“All too often, public officials seek to hide information that might embarrass them,” says Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri. “Our American system of checks and balances only works if the public has the information necessary to review our government’s work. The ACLU stands ready to act as Missourians’ watchdog.”
Court documents for Malin v. Missouri Association of Community Task Forces can be found on the legal docket page.
November 10, 2015
The following may be attributed to Jeffrey Mittman, Executive Director of the ACLU of Missouri:
“The ACLU of Missouri is disappointed with the recent request by the University of Missouri Police to report ‘hurtful speech,’ which simultaneously does too much and too little.
Racial epithets addressed to a specific person in a threatening or intimidating manner can be illegal, and may require action by police and/or university administrators. But, no governmental entity has the authority to broadly prohibit ‘hurtful’ speech – or even undefined ‘hateful’ speech, or to discipline against it.
Conversely, institutional racism and a history of turning a blind-eye to systemic inequities does require action. But mistakenly addressing symptoms – instead of causes – and doing it in a way that runs counter to the First Amendment is not the wise or appropriate response.
Missourians can rightfully expect our public university to establish policies and practices that proactively educate administrators, faculty, staff and students about the causes of, and solutions to, systemic racism and inequality, and that comports with the right to free speech and expression.”