After many months' delay, the case of John Chasnoff v. St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department Board of Commissioners is now moving -- relatively speaking -- at a good clip.Chasnoff, a local gadfly who has been seeking access to the police department's internal affairs file concerning the so-called World Series ticket scandal of 2006, was back in court yesterday before Judge Philip Heagney, arguing that the IA file should be turned over to him immediately. Chasnoff filed his case back in July 2007.
Heagney (who noted yesterday that he was a police officer in the city from 1970 to 1973) said after the hearing that he is not sure when he will rule.
You might recall Heagney's January 2 court order declaring that the original complaint that triggered the IA investigation, but which the police department refused to release, was indeed a public record.
The police department turned over that complaint to Chasnoff (and the ACLU, which is representing him) on January 13.
After Heagney specifically called the complaint "an open record" in his January 2 court order, I made a Sunshine request for the document. On January 15, the police department refused to release it to me. (Read police department attorney Jane Berman Shaw's denial of my request here.)
I subsequently obtained the complaint from Chasnoff and his attorney, Tony Rothert. (Click here for your own copy.)
Quick summary of the complaint's contents: Eric Johnson, a Texas resident, states that city police arrested him on suspicion of scalping tickets to Game 5 of the 2006 World Series. Johnson says officers confiscated more than $2,000 of his cash when they booked him -- and returned only about $500 upon his release.
Judge Heagney got his first look at the complaint at Thursday's court hearing. At the police department's request, the judge placed the complaint under seal.
What Chasnoff, along with RFT and the Post-Dispatch, has wanted to take a look at is the entire IA file, to see how the department handled the investigation of Johnson's complaint. Back in April 2007, the department announced it had demoted eight police officers and disciplined a handful of supervisors following its IA probe. Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce announced that her office would not file criminal charges against any of the officers involved.
But Johnson's complaint proves that at least one person has alleged that police officers committed a crime -- i.e., theft.
That's important, because it goes to the heart of a landmark Missouri case, Guyer v. Kirkwood, in which the state Supreme Court ruled that IA files are public records when they involve crimes. (In Guyer, a police officer sued and won access to his own IA file.)
Judge Heagney must decide whether and how Guyer applies to the World Series IA file.
Shaw, the police department's attorney, said in court Thursday that the file takes up two bankers' boxes and could take approximately 30 hours for a lawyer or paralegal to review and redact before turning over if the judge rules against the department.
Shaw also said that if the file were to become public, it could discourage private citizens and police officers from fully cooperating in a future IA investigation or from filing a complaint against a police officer.
Shaw wanted a quick ruling so that the losing party could appeal.
Either way, Shaw will not be handling the matter from here on out. She has resigned from the department; today is her last day.
I'll report back when Judge Heagney weighs in.
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