St. Louis police department continues to make it difficult for taxpayers to obtain public records

July 19, 2016

ACLU of Missouri files petition challenging policy related to accessing arrest reports

St. Louis, MO -- Today, the ACLU of Missouri filed a petition against the Metropolitan Police Department, City of St. Louis (SLMPD) for creating artificial barriers intended to make it more difficult for the public to access open records in accordance with the Missouri Sunshine Law. 

Mustafa Abdullah, lead organizer at the ACLU of Missouri, requested all arrest reports from June 1, 2016, and June 2, 2016, to investigate ACLU of Missouri’s concerns regarding the SLMPD’s new mobile app that may be wrongfully targeting and causing discrimination against the homeless. Despite the fact that arrest reports are open records and Missouri law limits governmental bodies to a charge of 10 cents per page, Abdullah was told he would need to pay a flat fee of $6.50 for each arrest report. In addition, although arrest reports are not subject to redaction, SLMPD told Abdullah he would need to pay city legal staff to redact the reports. To gain access to the 138 arrest records from a two-day period, SLMPD demanded $1,377.00.  

“It is disappointing that the ACLU of Missouri must take repeated legal action for taxpayers in St. Louis to access public information. By illegally demanding exorbitant flat fee payments for arrest reports, the SLMPD is making it harder for taxpaying citizens to access open public records,” explained Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri.

“Good policing includes good community relationships and transparency,” said Jeffrey A. Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri. “Now, more than ever, the SLMPD should be following Missouri’s laws requiring transparency to build community support and trust instead of creating artificial barriers that reduce transparency and accountability.”

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ACLU of Missouri Sues City of Belton for Panhandling Ordinance that Infringes on Individual’s First Amendment Rights

June 29, 2016

Kansas City, MO -- Today, the ACLU of Missouri filed suit against the City of Belton, Missouri, on behalf of Missouri resident Roger Walker, challenging a Belton ordinance that restricts panhandling. Panhandling is protected under the First Amendment.

Walker, a 67-year-old amputee with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and congestive heart failure, is confined to a motorized wheelchair and panhandles to secure donations of food and money. Despite the fact that Walker’s requests are protected by the First Amendment, he has been forced to stop panhandling because the Belton police have repeatedly threatened to arrest him and impound his motorized wheelchair for violating a city ordinance that prohibits soliciting on roadways.

“The ACLU believes that Missourians deserve the freedom to exercise their First Amendment rights,” said Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri. “With its city code, the City of Belton is excluding people like Mr. Walker from those protections, and that’s wrong.”

In 2014, a Belton police officer told Mr. Walker he would be arrested and fined and his wheelchair impounded if he did not stop soliciting and leave Belton immediately. Walker did not return for almost two years because he was afraid he would be arrested and prosecuted. However, on April 16, 2016, Mr. Walker returned when he needed to purchase a $500 battery for his wheelchair. He was again told to leave or be arrested.

The challenged ordinance, Section 13-361 of the Belton City Code, exempts “organizations, social clubs, civic groups, school groups, etc.” that are soliciting donations for “legitimate fundraising events.” The ordinance does not elaborate on “etc.” or define “legitimate.” The lack of clarity leaves people like Mr. Walker subject to arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.

The ACLU of Missouri is challenging the city code because it violates Mr. Walker’s free speech and due process rights. 

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ACLU of Missouri Statement on US Supreme Court Abortion Ruling

June 27, 2016

STATEMENT FROM ACLU OF MISSOURI
 
St. Louis, MO — Jeffrey Mittman, Executive Director of ACLU of Missouri, issued the following statement in response to the US Supreme Court Issuing a Victory for Women in Abortion Access Case:

The Missouri legislature has repeatedly enacted abortion regulations that have no medical benefit for patients—all under the guise of purporting to protect women’s health. Today’s Supreme Court decision means that courts will no longer play along with the legislature’s disingenuous game of pretending to help women by erecting unnecessary barriers to abortion care. It should mark the end of Missouri’s campaign to impose unnecessary and burdensome regulations on abortion providers for the purpose of making abortion care more difficult to obtain.

 

2016 Annual Meeting

June 13, 2016

Don't miss our 2016 Annual Meeting in Kansas City and St. Louis at 2 p.m. on Saturday, June 18. Nationally recognized Supreme Court expert and Washington University professor Lee Epstein will be the guest speaker. 

At this meeting, we will discuss updates on ACLU of Missouri's work and vote to elect board members to lead our organization. All ACLU members are entitled to vote.

2016 ACLU of Missouri Annual Meeting
Saturday, June 18, 2-3 p.m.
Immediately followed by a reception. 

ACLU of Missouri's Kansas City Office
406 West 34th Street, Suite 420
Kansas City, MO 64111

ACLU of Missouri's St. Louis Office
454 Whittier Street
St. Louis, MO 63108 

The 2016 Annual Meeting is free and open to the public, but we ask that you RSVP to jeffrey@aclu-mo.org if you plan to attend. Please let us know if you will be joining us in Kansas City or St. Louis.

We hope to see you on Saturday, June 18 at the Annual Meeting!

Category: Uncategorized

Departing Statement from Sarah K. Rossi

June 09, 2016

Dear ACLU Members, Partners, Board, and Staff: 

Two years has gone by in a blink. I remember my first week at the ACLU of Missouri in 2014 like it was yesterday – after the difficult decision to leave Montana, my mountains, and my people, I was nervous and excited to join an organization I have admired since I was a teenager. Part of me felt like I would wake up from a dream and be disappointed it wasn’t real. I knew as soon as I met the staff, started having meetings with partners, and stepped foot in the Missouri capitol that I had become a part of something special. And I was right. We have done a lot of great work in the last two years – from defeating SJR 39, to beating back countless anti-choice measures, to building a campaign to end racially biased policing in Missouri – we have strengthened coalitions, put egos aside, and made real progress toward equality and fairness. I am certain that work will continue and the successes will outweigh the defeats.

I never truly understood John Muir’s famous quote, “the mountains are calling, and I must go,” until I left Montana. Despite the community, both professional and personal, that my partner and I have built in Missouri, Montana was always in the back of our minds and the front of our hearts. When I accepted the Director of Advocacy and Policy position here in MO, I told our executive director, “the only thing that could make me leave is the same job, but in the mountains.” That opportunity has now presented itself and I’ve accepted a position at the ACLU of Montana. It breaks my heart to leave my team, but Kylie and I need to put our roots down in Montana, with our people and our mountains.

Thank you, all, for accepting me into your professional and personal networks. Working for the ACLU of Missouri has been nothing short of a perfect, sometimes hard, sometimes hilarious, but always inspiring adventure. I’ll keep an eye on all of youand miss you dearly. Keep up the fight. 

Sincerely, 

SK Rossi

Director of Advocacy and Policy
American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri

 

Category: Uncategorized

ACLU of Missouri Files Suit Against SLMPD

June 03, 2016

 St. Louis, MO -- Despite recent rulings that the Metropolitan Police Department of the City of St. Louis (SLMPD) must release certain investigative reports to the public, SLMPD has again withheld these open records and refused to give them to Curtis Farber. Because this refusal violates the Sunshine Law, the ACLU of Missouri today filed suit against SLMPD on behalf of Mr. Farber. 

“It should not take a lawsuit for a taxpayer to access this type of public information. Instead of continuing to assert a failed legal theory in order to keep public records secret, the department should embrace the transparency and accountability required by law,” explains Tony Rothert, Legal Director of the ACLU of Missouri. “It is beyond time for the police department to start following the law.”

In 2013, Mr. Farber filed a complaint with SLMPD alleging officer misconduct; specifically, he alleged that several officers had physically abused him and threatened to falsify evidence against him. After SLMPD completed its internal investigation into his complaint, Mr. Farber made a written request under the Sunshine Law seeking a copy of the investigative report. SLMPD, however, denied him access to the records.

“Curtis Farber’s case gets to the very heart of why policing isn’t working in Missouri,” said Jeffrey A. Mittman, Executive Director of the ACLU of Missouri. “We had hoped that SLMPD would work to increase communication, transparency, and trust with the citizens it serves and protects.”

The ACLU of Missouri represented John Chasnoff in a similar case in which Mr. Chasnoff had requested copies of public records relating to officers' use of World Series tickets they had previously confiscated from scalpers as evidence. In that litigation, SLMPD had unsuccessfully claimed that the internal investigative reports were closed records, using the same excuses it recently provided to Mr. Farber. In that case, SLMPD was eventually required to turn over the records and to pay more than $100,000 in attorneys’ fees.

 

ACLU Settles with Jackson County

May 31, 2016

Jackson County has taken an important step in the right direction to stop the unconstitutional practice of shackling pregnant women while they are in labor. Nearly eight months after Megon Riedel filed her lawsuit against Jackson County and three correctional officers, the case has settled. Ms. Riedel had been shackled, chained and transported by van nearly 200 miles across state while she was in labor. Ms. Riedel sued Jackson County and three Jackson County Detention Center employees. She was represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri. 

Under the terms of the settlement, Jackson County will pay dames to Riedel and implement written policies and procedures addressing the use of restraints and transportation guidelines for pregnant inmates and pre-trial detainees. 

"Shackling and chaining a pregnant prisoner while she is in labor violates the Constitution. Not only is it cruel and unusual punishment, it jeopardizes the health of both mother and baby," explains Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri. "The terms of the settlement represent a commitment from Jackson County to ensure that what happened to Ms. Riedel does not happen again."

To learn more, visit the case docket page.  

Full Press Release

ACLU Issues Statement on Passage of Discriminatory Photo ID Measure

May 13, 2016

Jeffrey Mittman, Executive Director of ACLU of Missouri, issued the following statement regarding the Missouri General Assembly passing government-issued photo ID legislation that could make it harder for up to 200,000 Missourians to vote:

We are disappointed the Missouri legislature made it a priority to add barriers that make it harder for eligible Missourians to exercise their constitutional right to vote. Missourians deserve more access to voting, not less.

Elections should be free, fair, and accessible to all eligible voters and we remain committed to protecting voting rights for all Missourians. We will continue to do everything we can to ensure that eligible voters have their voices heard at the polls.

Category: Voting Rights

ACLU of MO Statement on SJR 39 Defeat in Emerging Issues Committee

April 27, 2016

Jeffrey Mittman, Executive Director of ACLU of Missouri, issued the following statement after anti-LGBT bill SJR 39 was defeated in the Missouri House Emerging Issues Committee:

Today is a victory for equality. We are very pleased that SJR 39 failed by a bipartisan vote today in committee. The ACLU recognizes the countless individuals and organizations – from the business, faith, LGBT and allied communities – who joined together to oppose SJR 39.  We are grateful to the bipartisan members of the Committee for thoughtfully listening to the voices of Missourians and doing the right thing for our state.

We’re all Missourians and discrimination against any Missourian is wrong.  The defeat of SJR 39 affirms this.

ACLU Files Second Lawsuit in Six Months Against Another Missouri Jail for Shackling Woman in Labor

April 18, 2016

For the second time in six months, the ACLU of Missouri filed suit on behalf of a woman that was shackled, chained and transported hundreds of miles while in active labor with a high-risk pregnancy. Today, Tara Rhodes sued Mississippi County and seven Mississippi County Detention Center (MCDC) correctional officers for the cruel and unusual punishment that ultimately caused the death of her baby.

Beginning on Dec. 18, 2014, while imprisoned at MCDC, Ms. Rhodes told several staff members that she was leaking fluids, experiencing intense abdominal pain and believed she was going into early labor. Over the course of five days, Ms. Rhodes’ daily, repeated formal complaints and pleas for medical attention went unheeded. Instead, when she showed a staff member her clothing soaked and full of blood clots, she was accused of lying and instructed to stop securing the bodily fluids from elsewhere. When she could no longer walk because of her condition, she was dragged across the floor on a mat from her sleeping quarters to a holding cell. When Ms. Rhodes pounded on the holding cell door for help, she was threatened with restraint to a chair.

On the morning of Dec. 23, 2014, Ms. Rhodes was shackled at the wrists, ankles and across her abdomen during the five-hour, 243-mile trip to the Women’s Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center in Vandalia, Missouri. Upon arrival, she was immediately transferred 30 miles to Audrain Medical Center in Mexico, Missouri. Nine hours after her journey began, Ms. Rhodes’ cervix was dilated and her baby’s foot was protruding from the birth canal. The baby did not survive.

Ms. Rhodes’ experience is not isolated. Megon Riedel filed suit on Oct. 15, 2015 against Jackson County and three of its detention center officers after she too was shackled, chained and transported nearly 200 miles while in active labor.

“Leaving a pregnant woman in excruciating pain for days is the definition of cruel and unusual punishment,” explains Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri. “This kind of abuse, which reaches far beyond the boundaries of human decency, is exactly what the Constitution was designed to protect against.”

“There is no excuse for any Missourian to be shackled by law enforcement or denied health services while in labor,” said Jeffrey A. Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri. “The fact that the ACLU has to repeatedly take action against jails and prisons across the state for doing so is proof that this is a serious problem in Missouri. The ACLU remains ready to hold every offending institution accountable.” 

To learn more, visit the case docket page

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