September 10, 2014
September 09, 2014
Missouri is at an important crossroads. The events that have unfolded in Ferguson recently highlight significant concerns that many Missourians and Americans across the country have regarding race and the criminal justice system. State leaders like Governor Jay Nixon must acknowledge that deep, harmful perceptions of racial bias exist in many communities in our State and that the events in Ferguson illustrate to many the dramatic disparities in how Black and white communities are treated by law enforcement in Missouri.
Another example of the challenges we face as a State concerning the treatment of people of color by those in positions of power, is the operation of our capital punishment system. Earl Ringo is set to be executed this week – Mr. Ringo is a Black man convicted of the murder of a white man and woman during a robbery and sentenced to die by an all-white jury in Cape Girardeau.
Of course, we do not condone the crimes committed by Mr. Ringo and we extend our heartfelt condolences for the tremendous loss of Dennis Poyser and JoAnna Baysinger.
The role of racial bias in Mr. Ringo’s case, however, has never been properly reviewed by a court, nor has other evidence of racial bias in Missouri’s overall capital punishment system been properly investigated. The Governor alone has the power to halt Mr. Ringo’s execution this week and order an independent Board of Inquiry to review Mr. Ringo’s claims that bias and prejudice unconstitutionally contributed to his death sentence.
Our Governor is faced with a choice: he can take this critical moment as an opportunity to listen and reflect on the concerns that we and others have raised, and consider how best to instill greater confidence in all of our state’s citizens that justice is being fairly served. Or, Governor Nixon can choose the path that will further inflame the tensions we see in Missouri. Executing Mr. Ringo at this time, while so much remains unresolved concerning the fairness of the death sentence in his case, would stand in stark contrast to recent efforts by Governor Nixon to work with and convince communities of color that their voices are heard by our elected leaders.
The entire nation is watching Missouri right now to see how our state and federal leaders act following Ferguson. The nation is also watching the death penalty closely – as state after state is repealing it and there are seemingly endless stories about innocent individuals being exonerated from death row after decades of incarceration for crimes they did not commit. Further, just last week, allegations that Missouri Department of Corrections Director George Lombardi lied about the fact that Missouri has used the same controversial drug in executions that resulted in several horribly botched executions in other states this year. The execution of Mr. Ringo would be Missouri’s tenth in as many months, a rapid and troubling increase that is out-of-step with most of the country and instead places our state in company with the “capital” of capital punishment, Texas.
For all of these reasons, we encourage Governor Nixon to immediately stay Mr. Ringo’s execution and appoint an independent Board of Inquiry to review the role of race in his case. In so doing, the Governor will demonstrate that his recent statements to Missourians were not merely lip service, and that he is genuinely concerned with improving our state’s system of justice – especially when the punishment is final and irreversible.
We also call on Governor Nixon and the Supreme Court of Missouri to refrain from setting in new executions dates until the ongoing St. Louis University School of Law study of death penalty sentencing overall in the state is finished. This independent academic study will help us all better understand to what extent race or any other illegal or irrelevant factor has led to death sentences in the state. The SLU study, along with the experts’ findings in the 2012 American Bar Association's Missouri Death Penalty Assessment Report, will surely provide guidance to Missouri leaders and lawmakers in implementing reforms that could give Missourians and the nation greater confidence in our system of justice.
Turning a blind eye and continuing to execute prisoners despite legitimate concerns being raised about our capital punishment system smacks of the same “fear of too much justice” Justice Brennan condemned in the Supreme Court McCleskey decision almost 30 years ago.
Missouri should seize this unique moment in history to move forward and create real change in the way citizens in Ferguson – and communities like it all over the state – are treated by those in power. Now is the time to truly examine institutionalized racism and disparate treatment in Missouri, and that examination can never be more important than when a man’s life is at stake.
September 05, 2014
CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO – The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri has filed a lawsuit against the City of Cape Girardeau and Police Officer Matthew Peters, who made an unconstitutional arrest of their client, David Clary, on Aug. 30, 2013.
After receiving a citation for making a prohibited turn, Clary used strong language to express his displeasure to Officer Peters. Officer Peters retaliated by arresting Clary because of the content of his speech.
“This particular officer has a history of violating the First Amendment rights of residents in Cape Girardeau,” said Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri. “The City of Cape Girardeau needs to train and adequately supervise its officers to prevent constitutional violations from recurring. Failure to do so allows First Amendment rights to go unprotected in Cape Girardeau.”
“Free speech is a value that Americans hold dear,” explains Jeffrey A. Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri. “Because of our First Amendment, it is particular to America that citizens are free to criticize government officials, including police officers, in harsh terms without fearing retaliation.”
The ACLU of Missouri is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization dedicated to defending and expanding the constitutional rights and civil liberties of all Missourians guaranteed by the U.S. and Missouri Constitutions, and is an affiliate of the national ACLU.
September 03, 2014
On July 16, the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri (ACLU of Missouri) filed a Sunshine Law suit against St. Louis County because the County would not release an FBI audit regarding the embezzlement of county funds by Edward Mueth.
Today, Judge David Lee Vincent III issued his final judgment in this case.
"We brought this suit to promote transparency when St. Louis County claimed that the documents were not public records subject to the Sunshine Law," said Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri. "The Court rightly rejected the County’s interpretation of Missouri law, found the records to be public and has ordered their production."
“We are pleased that the court agreed that the FBI audit is a public document and is subject to the Missouri's Sunshine Law," said Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri. "While we are disappointed that the audit will contain redactions, this does not detract from the real victory that records will see the light of day and be subject to citizen scrutiny."
When the audit is received, the ACLU of Missouri will post it on its website.
September 02, 2014
The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri (ACLU of Missouri) filed its sixth lawsuit against the Missouri Department of Corrections (MODOC) seeking documents regarding the state’s execution protocol and policies. Today’s lawsuit regards the process used to select witnesses for executions.
The ACLU of Missouri is seeking 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. “So far, all we have received are a handful of heavily censored documents,” explains Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri. “We want to know if the Missouri Department of Corrections is selecting witnesses in an impartial manner, which is questionable given that potential candidates are first asked their position on the death penalty.”
“Witnesses are the eyes of the public and they ensure that those executed do not suffer when the state metes out the ultimate punishment in our name,” says ACLU of Missouri Executive Director Jeffrey A. Mittman. “We need to be able to trust that our witnesses will give us a fair and unbiased account.”
Court documents can be found on the docket page of the ACLU of Missouri website.
August 25, 2014
With the Missouri legislature’s annual veto session only weeks away, the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri (ACLU of Missouri) today released an ad that faults lawmakers for intruding in Missourians’ private lives. The ad, which can be viewed here, urges Missourians to contact their state lawmaker and oppose any effort to override the veto of House Bill 1307.
HB 1307 would make Missouri one of only three states in the country to mandate a 72-hour forced delay for a woman needing an abortion.
“Preventing further intrusion into private medical decisions should be an issue that both Republicans and Democrats can rally around,” said Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri. “In Missouri our elected officials have an opportunity to protect our privacy against this political intrusion by sustaining the veto of HB 1307. We hope these ads will encourage Missourians to speak out against this extreme measure.”
The ACLU of Missouri said the fight to sustain the veto of HB 1307 is a natural extension of their support for other privacy measures. For example, the ACLU was one of the leading supporters of the highly successful Amendment 9 privacy amendment, which passed on the August primary ballot with 75 percent of the vote statewide.
August 22, 2014
On Aug. 12, the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri asked the Ferguson Police Department to release the incident report for the Aug. 9 fatal shooting of Michael Brown. After the request was denied, the ACLU filed a Missouri Sunshine Law suit on Aug. 15. Late Thursday afternoon, the ACLU received a heavily redacted copy of the incident report.
“It’s been nearly two weeks and Ferguson is still hiding information regarding the fatal shooting of Michael Brown,” said Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri. “It is long past time for the Ferguson Police Department to begin building public trust and the first step is to release a complete copy of the incident report.”
August 20, 2014
On Wednesday, Aug. 20, the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri faxed a letter to Colonel Ron Replogle, superintendent of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, asking him to identify and remove a police officer who demonstrated an inability to perform appropriately in Ferguson on Tuesday, Aug. 19. The officer pointed an assault weapon at civilians and threatened to kill them. When asked to identify himself, the officer responded with profanity.
“This officer’s actions heighten the tension surrounding Ferguson,” said Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri. “I am hopeful that Col. Replogle will respond swiftly because this behavior is contrary to the Missouri State Highway Patrol’s effort to build positive relations with the community.”
A representative of the Missouri State Highway Patrol informed the ACLU Wednesday afternoon that the offending officer has been identified as a St. Ann cop and he has been removed from duty in Ferguson. The ACLU sent Col. Replogle a thank you letter for his swift action.
August 17, 2014
By Diane Balogh, ACLU of Missouri
In the wake of the Michael Brown tragedy last week, the ACLU has been working diligently to shed light on what transpired, as well as preserve First Amendment Rights for the community and media.
Here's how we are working on behalf of the community and people of Ferguson:
The ACLU of Missouri filed two Missouri Sunshine Law suits to receive copies of the incident reports from both the St. Louis County and the Ferguson Police Departments. Both have refused to turn over the reports that should contain details regarding the shooting, and police transparency is key to a fair and just investigation.
On Thursday, we also challenged the police policy of ordering members of the media and public to stop recording the police acting in their official duty on public streets and sidewalks. This was resolved late Friday with an agreement between the involved parties that the media and members of the public have the right to record public events unless it obstructs the activities or threatens the safety of others, or physically interferes with the ability of law enforcement officers to perform their duties.
We're working hard to protect First Amendment Rights on the ground as well, assembling volunteers to assist with legal observation at community gatherings and marches in Ferguson. They are also distributing "What to Do If You are Stopped by Police, Immigration or FBI Agents" cards, along with "Know Your Rights at a Protest" flyers at demonstrations. Citizens have been encouraged through social media to file an intake form with the ACLU, if they feel they have been victims of police overreach.
On Saturday, Gov. Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency and has put a curfew in place from midnight until 5 a.m. Today, along with NAACP-LDF and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, we released a statement about the civil liberties concerns surrounding the curfew, which is set to go into effect for a second night in a row. You can find the statement on the National ACLU website.
August 15, 2014
On Aug. 15, the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri, St. Louis County, the City of Ferguson and the Missouri Highway Patrol reached an agreement in federal court for the right to record police. This action was prompted when videographers were commanded to turn off their video cameras Wednesday evening at a gathering of protesters held to demand justice in the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson.
The signing parties ― attorneys representing the ACLU of Missouri, St. Louis County, the City of Ferguson and the Superintendent of the Missouri Highway Patrol ― “acknowledge and agree that the media and members of the public have the right to record public events without abridgement unless it obstructs the activities or threatens the safety of others, or physically interferes with the ability of law enforcement officers to perform their duties.”
“The role of both the media and the ACLU is to make sure that the rule of law is being followed,” explains Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri. “It will be easier to do that in Ferguson, now that all parties agree the media, and the public at large, have the right to record police interactions.”
“The grief of our community should not be compounded by First Amendment violations,” says Jeffrey A. Mittman, ACLU of Missouri executive director. “Rest assured that the ACLU is working hard to make sure mourners can peacefully assemble without the threat of being told to turn off their cameras.”