Kansas City, MO - In 2016, the ACLU of Missouri filed a Sunshine Law suit against the Missouri State Highway Patrol (MSHP) and the McDonald County Prosecuting Attorney for failing to release public records related to the 1994 shooting of Corporal Bobbie J. Harper, an MSHP Trooper. Today, the family will finally receive access to previously withheld records in the possession of MSHP.
On Sept. 16, 1994, Cpl. Harper was shot in the chest at his home, allegedly by Timothy Coombs, following Cpl. Harper’s arrest of Coombs’ associate, Robert Joos, six weeks earlier. Cpl. Harper later passed away. Coombs—who is believed to be a white nationalist—was charged with the crime but was never apprehended and is now believed to be deceased.
From 2012 to 2015, Cpl. Harper’s daughter and widow asked for records related to the shooting from MSHP, the Missouri Attorney General’s office, and the McDonald County Prosecutor. They wanted to know about the arrest of Robert Joos, the shooting of Cpl. Harper, and the resulting investigation. Among those were records prepared by the FBI and retained by MSHP.
After two years of stonewalling, the family began submitting formal Sunshine Law requests. These requests were also denied until the ACLU lawsuit was filed. The trial court determined that most of the records sought should have been given to the family upon request. Thousands of pages were then produced, but records that came from the FBI remained fully redacted.
The appellate court’s ruling today reversed an earlier trial court order approving those redactions, holding that misapplying a federal law “to circumvent the Missouri Sunshine Law is to disregard the basic principles of the supremacy clause and preemption doctrine.”
“The Sunshine Law is clear and cannot be disregarded as government officials see fit. All Missourians are guaranteed access to public records upon request,” explains Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri. “It should not have taken seven years and an ACLU lawsuit for the family of a fallen officer to obtain the public records they requested.”
Corporal Bobbie Harper served 32 years as a state trooper. In April 1984, he was named the Department of Public Safety’s Employee of the Month for confronting an armed man who threatened to take his rifle into the McDonald County Courthouse to “help” his friend. Missouri Governor Christopher “Kit” Bond praised Cpl. Harper’s bravery at the awards ceremony as a shining representation of “the finest traditions of the Missouri Highway Patrol.” A portion of U.S. Highway 71 in McDonald County was renamed “Corporal Bobbie J. Harper Memorial Highway” in his honor.
The records obtained through this lawsuit bring some closure to Cpl. Harper’s daughter and widow.