"Nuisance Laws" Harm Victims of Domestic Abuse

September 29, 2015

On September 29, the St. Louis County Council will consider the final passage of bill affecting a residential rental property licensing code.

Blog by Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri

The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri is deeply troubled that St. Louis County Council members may not have considered the full ramifications of amending a nuisance-type law that could end up evicting victims of domestic violence or prevent them from calling the police.*

Chapter 825 contains provisions that would harm victims of assault, stalking, harassment and domestic violence, and encourage landlords to evict the victim to avoid license suspension. It would disproportionately impact female tenants and crime victims under the guise of a “nuisance” law.

No one needing protection should ever fear eviction if they call the police.

The ACLU strongly opposes Substitute Bill Number 1 and advises the county council to vote against this measure. We will monitor the council's vote and any enforcement of the provisions, if they pass.

*Gretchen Arnold, an assistant professor of Women and Gender Studies at St. Louis University, is co-author of “Silencing Women’s Voices: Nuisance Property Laws and Battered Women,” which references the dangers of the City of St. Louis’ nuisance property law that was enacted in 1996. This is included in her affidavit in Nancy Markham v. City of Surprise, which is available on the ACLU of Missouri website.

Piedmont Resident Sues Government Officials Who Retaliated Because She Flipped Middle Finger at the Mayor

September 24, 2015

The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri filed a civil rights lawsuit on Sept. 24, 2015, on behalf of Piedmont residents Tina Warren and her son Bryan Jeffers.  They have been harassed repeatedly by government officials since Ms. Warren began expressing her disgust with the mayor by flipping him her middle finger.  

The problems trace back to April 2014 when Warren and Jeffers’ home was without water for six days while a water main on their street was being repaired. Ms. Warren had called the city daily to inquire when her water would be restored. While driving one of those days, she noticed a group of men working on the main on her street so she stopped to ask them. Before she could exit her car, Mayor Bill Kirkpatrick, in a tirade of expletives, told Warren to mind her own business. Warren began protesting the mayor by extending her middle finger whenever she encountered him.

After Warren and Jeffers began receiving city water bills that were much higher than previous bills, Warren started a petition for a city audit. While Warren collected signatures, Mayor Kirkpatrick sent a Piedmont police officer to tell her she was violating an ordinance by blocking the sidewalk, but she wasn’t violating any law. City officials have continued to target the plaintiffs by shutting off their water with no explanation or warning, pulling Warren over for flipping off people while driving, and even having the family’s home searched for drugs without freely given consent.

“The mayor and police cannot use their power to intimidate individuals who communicate in ways that some may find offensive,” explains Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri.

“Our constitution protects speech, which includes not only spoken words, but also gestures and actions,” says Jeffrey A. Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri. “Government officials need to develop thicker skins if a middle finger drives them to violate the constitution.”

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Bolivar Resident Challenges City’s Panhandling Ordinance

September 18, 2015

SPRINGFIELD, MO  – Richard Hill, a Bolivar resident who protested Bolivar’s panhandling ordinance by carrying a sign that read “I NEED MONEY,” now has the support of the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri. Today they filed a federal lawsuit against the city for its unconstitutional panhandling ordinance enacted in March.  

“Mr. Hill recognized that Bolivar’s new ordinance violated the First Amendment and cleverly tried to educate the community by walking around Bolivar with his sign,” explains Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri. “He used this form of communication during the grace period before the ordinance would be enforced and hasn’t protested since for fear of being arrested and prosecuted.”

“The ACLU has a rich history of opposing laws that limit speech, especially when they target those who are most vulnerable, like the homeless,” said Jeffrey A. Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri. “Bolivar’s ordinance is so broad that it prohibits even street peddlers, unless they obtain peddler identification permits at a minimum cost of $25; a Girl Scout would have to sell a lot of cookies just to break even.”

Richard Hill

Richard Hill

Breakfast of Champions for Justice

September 15, 2015

by Jeffrey A. Mittman, executive director

If you like your breakfast with a side of justice, we have just the events for you. The ACLU of Missouri is hosting Show Me Justice! breakfasts, from 10-11:30 a.m. on Saturday, September 26 in Kansas City, and on Saturday, October 24, in St. Louis.

Honorary hosts at the Kansas City breakfast include Mayor Sly James, the Honorable Jolie Justus and Luciana Bardwell, and Brian Williams.

Saturday, September 26, 10-11:30 a.m.
Grand Street Café
4740 Grand Ave.
Kansas City, MO 64112

St. Louis' breakfast will include honorary hosts Rasheen Aldridge, Jr.; Sara Epstein; Brittany Packnett; and Arlene Zarembka and Zuleyma Tang-Martinez.

Saturday, October 24, 10-11:30 a.m.
Soulard Preservation Hall
1921 S. Ninth St.
St. Louis, MO 63104

We hope you will help us celebrate and hear from those who have served on the front line in the fight for liberty and equality. For more details and to order tickets, visit our website.

Bon appétit!

Ozark Fire Protection District Agrees to Pay for Benefits Withheld from Same-Sex Couple

September 09, 2015

SPRINGFIELD, MO  – A lawsuit against the Ozark Fire Protection District was dismissed today by agreement of the parties. The District will pay a former captain for spousal benefits that the District had denied to her spouse.

Last November, the ACLU of Missouri filed a lawsuit on behalf of Andrea “Andi” Mooneyham, then a captain in the Ozark Fire Protection District, who had married Tara Muck in California in July 2013. The District refused to extend spousal benefits to Muck because both Mooneyham and Muck are women. Even after Missouri began recognizing the out-of-state marriages of same-sex couples last October, the District continued to ignore their marriage.

“The Ozark Fire Protection District refused to treat Captain Mooneyham the same as other employees—denying her spousal benefits even after it was clear that doing so is unconstitutional,” explains Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri. “Mooneyham put her life on the line every day, just like the other fire fighters, but when it came to benefits, the District treated her like a second-class citizen.”

“Government employers cannot pick and choose which marriages to recognize,” said Jeffrey A. Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri. “All legal marriages must be treated the same.”

The case was dismissed as a part of a settlement after the District agreed to compensate Mooneyham for the benefits she should have received and pay her attorneys’ fees.

More information and court documents can be found in the legal docket section of the ACLU of Missouri website.

ACLU and PROMO Host Marriage Equality Town Halls Across the State

September 08, 2015

by Jeffrey A. Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri

It was an exciting day when the United States Supreme Court made marriage equality the law of the land. But, along with the landmark news, came a flood of questions. That’s why we are partnering with PROMO to present marriage equality town halls on Thursdays at 6 p.m., across the state in September and October. The first one begins this week.

  • September 10 at the National Avenue Christian Church in Springfield
  • September 24 at the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City
  • October 8 at the Metropolitan Community Church of Greater St. Louis in St. Louis
  • October 15 on the Southeast Missouri State University campus in Cape Girardeau
  • October 22 at the Washington Park Library in St. Joseph

Each town hall will have a leader from both the ACLU of Missouri and PROMO, who will give a brief overview of marriage equality in Missouri before fielding your questions. Check out our website for addresses and more information.

Please mark your calendars and jot down your questions. We look forward to seeing you soon.

Student Rights or Student Wrongs

September 01, 2015

by Jeffrey A. Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri

The new school year is here! Are you and your students equipped to protect their rights this school year?

Protect your students by educating yourself and talking with your students about their rights.

  • Protecting the First Amendment rights of all students. Just last fall, we successfully fought for the rights of students who were disciplined for peacefully protesting at their high school. In the end, the punishment was dropped and the students' First Amendment Rights were protected. These students clearly knew their rights better than their school administrators.
  • Fighting for the rights of LGBT students. LGBT rights have gained attention in recent years, yet countless LGBT youth are still bullied and discriminated against in their schools. Harassing students for who they are, or if their appearance or behavior doesn't match gender stereotypes, is unacceptable.
  • Working to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline. The school-to-prison pipeline is the process by which children of color or with disabilities are disciplined more harshly than white students for the same behavior. The punishment often pushes kids out of the classroom and right into the juvenile and criminal court systems.

Do you know if your school’s policies discriminate against students? Do you know whether students are allowed to form LGBT-related clubs at your public school? Can they bring a same-sex date to a school dance? Let us know if a child's rights are being trampled.

Share this information with friends and family who have school-aged children and let them know that we want to hear from them.

Here's to a year full of positive learning experiences for all students!

Volunteerism is Alive and Well at the ACLU

August 27, 2015

by Brad Pierce, board president of the ACLU of Missouri

Helen Keller, one of the ACLU’s founders, said, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

I know this to be true and I credit much of the success of the ACLU of Missouri to our volunteers.

We deeply appreciate all of the support we get from volunteers, from spreading the word through social media or letters to legislators, to tabling at community events, to serving on the ACLU board of trustees, and everything in between. Volunteers are an integral part in our fight for civil liberties.

It’s been almost two years since the ACLU re-aligned to speak with one voice for all Missourians. This transition was facilitated in part by volunteers from across the state who worked tirelessly behind the scenes. Now opportunities for volunteers to get involved are available throughout the state.

Do you have a passion for protecting and expanding civil liberties in Missouri? Please consider signing up on our website to be a volunteer.

It doesn’t matter whether you have two free hours a month or 40, if you are a teenager or an octogenarian, or if you are still in high school or hold a law degree. We can find use for your time, interests and skills to fight for freedom.

Just this past weekend, 17-year-old Kate and her father Tom drove an hour to staff our booth at the Mid-MO Pridefest Celebration in Columbia and stayed for the entire day. Kate baked some tasty cookies to share with the other volunteers. Now that’s dedication!

With the many protest events this past year, we are always in need of legal observers to ensure protesters’ First Amendment rights are respected. You don’t have to be an attorney, but you do need to attend a legal observer training and have a passion for free speech.

As a longtime ACLU volunteer, I can attest that volunteering is much more than a deeply rewarding experience—it also is a whole lot of fun. Don’t take my word for it; find out for yourself.

On behalf of our entire membership and the board of trustees, I want to personally thank the many ACLU volunteers who keep the wheels of justice turning. We truly could not do this important work without your support.

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to get real-time updates of our work.

Volunteers at the Mid-MO Pridefest Celebration

ACLU and Partners Issue Statement on Charges Issued by St. Louis County Against Individuals Arrested Last Year

August 18, 2015

St. Louis County is marking the one-year anniversary of the death of Michael Brown by charging hundreds of people arrested by the St. Louis County Police in protest actions that occurred since August of 2014.  The State Prosecuting Attorney has refused to pursue these charges.  The City of Ferguson, where most incidents occurred, has not pursued charges.  

Nonetheless, the newly-appointed County Counselor has stepped in to file ordinance violations.  This is the same entity that currently defends St. Louis County Police Department Chief Jon Belmar against numerous civil rights lawsuits stemming from these protests. 

It is unclear why the St. Louis County Counselor has reached a different conclusion from other local prosecutors who have rightly decided not to pursue charges. But, it is clear that many individuals will not receive notice of these delayed charges and will ultimately be issued arrest warrants.

We condemn this action as a blatant violation of constitutional rights and an appalling misuse of our already overburdened court system. 

We urge the St. Louis County Counselor's office to do the right thing and help heal the region by dismissing all of these cases immediately.  

Those who have been charged and need legal representation should complete an online form at:  http://bit.ly/1JWkTnZ

ACLU of Missouri                               

Arch City Defenders                           

Advancement Project                         

American Civil Liberties Union         

Black Movement Law Project            

Center for Constitutional Rights       

Missouri NAACP                                 

Mound City Bar Association 

NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund    

National Association for Public Defense       

National Lawyers Guild      

National Lawyers Guild – St. Louis Chapter

National Press Photographers Association

Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

St. Louis University Civil Litigation Clinic

Justice for Two, But Not All

August 04, 2015

by Jeffrey A. Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri

We know that if you are poor or black, the justice system treats you differently. That difference often has long-term consequences and in many cases, destroys lives.

St. Louis Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch and County Counselor Peter Krane have the chance to be an example of justice. They can make clear that they will not prosecute those swept up in mass arrests while protesting after Michael Brown was killed.

Last week the ACLU of Missouri settled two lawsuits on behalf of journalists arrested for recording the police during Ferguson protests. We are pleased that our clients will not face charges, but what about the thousands of protesters without legal representation? They were exercising their First Amendment rights, too, when they were ensnared by the police.

Instead of placing them into a broken municipal courts system, St. Louis Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch and County Counselor Peter Krane can do the right thing. All that is required is an agreement to not file charges on the mass arrests of protesters. That move would be heralded as a show of good faith toward rebuilding community trust.

It's time we tried something different.

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