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.”

Show Me Missouri is Better than Indiana

April 06, 2015

by Jeffrey A. Mittman, ACLU of Missouri Executive Director

Why is Missouri trying to step into Indiana's muck?

Missouri legislators are moving full steam ahead on campus Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) bills right here in our state. HB 104 and SB 248 would legalize discrimination against LGBT people on college and university campuses across Missouri.

Join us by signing a petition to ask Missouri legislators to stop these discriminatory bills. Instead, they should focus on Ferguson, education, the budget, and healthcare for 70,000 Missourians.

The bills are moving quickly, so please act now. HB 104 will be heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee at noon on Tuesday, April 7, and SB 248 has already passed out of the Senate Education Committee and can be passed at any time.

Sign our petition and circulate it widely. Your voice matters in the fight for equality.

Don't let Missouri be the next Indiana.

Category: LGBT Rights

Ferguson Election Controversy Moves Citizen to Challenge Unconstitutional Missouri Statute

March 18, 2015

ST. LOUIS  – A Missouri Revised Statute outlaws the American tradition of anonymous political speech. Today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri filed a First Amendment challenge to the statute on behalf of a Ferguson resident.

The ACLU client, a Ferguson businessman, wants to distribute a flyer that compares and contrasts two candidates running for city council.  He fears retribution if the materials contain his name and address, as required by Missouri Revised Statute Section 130.031.8.

“The First Amendment firmly protects political speech because robust debate about political ideas and candidates is necessary for self-governance,” explains Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri. “From the founding of our nation, anonymous speech has played an important role in political debate.”

“The state is trying to control how Missourians can participate in political debates. The ACLU is protecting a political tradition of anonymous speech, which can be traced back to our founding, including the Federalist Papers published in the 1780s,” says Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri. “April 7 is an important election for Ferguson and we should not silence even one voice.” 

Coalition Partners Lobby to End Racially Biased Policing

March 11, 2015

JEFFERSON CITY, MO  – In the wake of the release of the Department of Justice’s scathing report on its investigation of the Ferguson Police Department, racial justice advocates converged in Jefferson City today to support the Fair and Impartial Policing Act,  SB 559. The primary sponsor of SB 559 is Missouri Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal, and co-sponsors include Senators S. Kiki Curls (D-9) and Jamilah Nasheed (D-5).

SB 559 has been read twice on the Senate floor and is waiting to be referred to committee. If this bill becomes law, it will require Missouri law enforcement agencies to:

  • Document pedestrian stops and requires that data collected via pedestrian stops be included in the Attorney General’s report.
  • Adopt a written policy prohibiting bias-based policing, which should include officers undergoing a minimum of 8 hours of anti-bias policing training annually.
  • Adopt various procedures aimed at decreasing bias in the administration of searches, including requiring police to document articulable facts for executing a search and requiring the officer to get voluntary consent from the person being searched.
  • Submit to review by the Police Officers Standards and Training Commission if that agency’s data reveals patterns and practices of bias-based policing.
  • Create community and law enforcement partnerships to build trust and understanding between officers and the public.

“We have years of stats that echo the DOJ’s findings and prove we have a bias-based policing problem in Missouri,” said Senator Chappelle-Nadal. “The Fair and Impartial Policing Act of 2015 provides solutions so we can begin to build trust between the police and the communities they serve.”

Michael T. McPhearson, co-chair of the “Don’t Shoot Coalition” and executive director for Veterans for Peace, said “The Department of Justice did a good job of investigating the Ferguson Police Department, but we all know that Ferguson is not alone and we are lobbying strongly for SB 559 because we need a fix that will affect our entire state.”

A Missouri bill enacted in August 2000 requires Missouri’s law enforcement agencies to collect racial data on vehicle stops and past reports can be found on the Missouri Attorney General’s website. Sarah Rossi, director of advocacy and policy for the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri, points out that “Pedestrian stops are currently not included in this report, but this needs to change so we can get a clearer picture of communities with problems. SB 559 requires that pedestrian stops would be included in the Attorney General’s annual report.”