Legal Loopholes

Vandalism isn't a crime in St. Louis. Just ask the police.

The department's position that the alleged destruction of property by officers isn't a crime doesn't pass the smell test for Dan Diemer, a former St. Louis County prosecutor who is now a criminal-defense lawyer. "That's double-talk," Diemer says. "Even an ordinance violation is a crime per se. It's punishable by both fines and jail time. Under the definition of criminal punishment, they can take away your liberty, they can take away your money. I think they're trying to hide behind calling it a civil case as opposed to a criminal case." Diemer also notes that if officers acted together in damaging property, they could be charged with conspiracy under state law, a charge that doesn't exist under city ordinances.

Stelzer doesn't dispute that the internal-affairs investigation could touch on potential violations of state conspiracy statutes by the officers, but he blames protesters for blocking that line of inquiry.

"I guess if we could get some of these people to talk to us, we could get some evidence of that, but that's one of the problems we're having," Stelzer says. "The people who own the bikes are not talking to us, as a general rule. I'm not saying every single one of them, but my understanding is they are not being forthcoming as far as giving us statements."

The department's secrecy in internal-affairs investigations extends to cases beyond vandalism. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Pollihan, the internal-affairs commander, declined in July to discuss an investigation into a police major suspected of fixing a DUI ticket, saying the case was confidential because it concerned a personnel matter.

It's an old story for John Chasnoff, Susie Chasnoff's husband. He says public access to internal-affairs investigations are "absolutely crucial," but that never happens in St. Louis.

"Time after time, they say that they'll investigate themselves, but no reports are ever issued, complainants are not given the results of investigations and there's no reason to believe that investigations are even thoroughly completed," he says. "In this World Agricultural Forum case, the police vowed there would be an investigation, but nothing's been issued publicly to let the public know the department is holding itself accountable. For the department to claim that their investigation didn't include any look into possible criminal violations tells me that they haven't conducted an adequate investigation."

Attempts to force an independent investigation into possible police misconduct in connection with the raids and arrests have failed. Green Party activists in June demanded an aldermanic probe, but aldermanic president James Shrewsbury said such an inquiry isn't the board's job because aldermen don't control the police department. Don Fitz, a Green Party spokesman, says he would "love" to see internal-affairs reports, even though he doesn't trust the department to investigate itself. "Those are my friends who had their stuff urinated on and their house trashed," Fitz says.

Fitz says the notion that the reports aren't public because the cops aren't suspected of crimes is absurd. "I don't think it's even splitting hairs," Fitz says. "It's just ridiculous to make that argument."

Matt LeMieux, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri, says he's not an expert on the Sunshine Law. But he does say that the police penchant for secrecy isn't helping the department's credibility.

"The only opinion I have is if the chief is interested in repairing any of the damage that was done, you would hope he would be a little more open about this," LeMieux says.

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