St. Louis County Animal Control Shredding Followed $2,200 Orkin Bill

Lawsuit will now probe whether 20,000 pounds of public records had to be destroyed

click to enlarge Photos of Animal Care and Control records obtained by the RFT.
St. Louis County Health Department
Photos of Animal Care and Control records obtained by the RFT.

Records obtained by the RFT show that St. Louis County Animal Care and Control had a problem with mice and cockroaches in their facility. But whether the infestation warranted the destruction of 20,000 pounds of public records remains in dispute — and, with a lawsuit now filed over the records’ destruction, one that will be solved through litigation.

The Post-Dispatch first reported earlier this month that the county’s Animal Care and Control Department had destroyed 250 boxes that the agency said were infested with mice and roaches.

The County Council is supposed to sign off on any destruction of records, which didn't happen in this case.

Attorney Mark Pedroli filed a lawsuit Thursday against St. Louis County over what he alleges was the illegal destruction of those documents. His lawsuit calls the action "the largest, illegal mass destruction of government documents in St. Louis County history."

The plaintiff in the lawsuit is Karen Runk, the treasurer for Missouri K9 Friends, an Ellisville-based organization that rescues dogs and advocates for animal welfare.

The suit compares the county's destruction of documents to former Governor Eric Greitens' use of the Confide app to automatically delete text messages between him and his staff. However, the suit alleges that, unlike Greitens' texts, the records destroyed by the county "were subject to a Sunshine request before they were destroyed."

The request Pedroli refers to is related to two ongoing lawsuits involving county Animal Care and Control. One involves allegations from county resident Erin Bulfin that the agency wrongfully euthanized her dog Daisy in December 2019. The other was filed on behalf of a former agency employee who alleges she was fired after speaking against the privatization of the agency. Pedroli represents the plaintiffs in both cases. He previously told the RFT that he’s uncovered "seriously questionable behavior" at the county animal control agency through the two cases.

In the third lawsuit, filed Thursday, Pedroli alleges that St. Louis County Animal Care and Control Director Venessa Duris sought in court to block him from requesting agency specific records. Shortly after a judge denied her request, he alleges, the records were destroyed.

The county says that the records weren't destroyed with nefarious intent. The Post-Dispatch reported that the health department's acting co-director, Kate Donaldson, ordered the documents destroyed because they were infested with mice and cockroaches, and that she didn't know she was required by law to seek the County Council's approval before doing so.

click to enlarge Photos of Animal Care and Control records obtained by the RFT.
St. Louis County Health Department
Photos of Animal Care and Control records obtained by the RFT.

Through Sunshine requests, the RFT obtained photos of the record storage room that the county says had the infestation.

The photos do show feces, but also what appears to be general chaos in record-keeping.

click to enlarge Photos marked "mouse poop, unidentified feces and urine stream" from Animal Care and Control facility.
St. Louis County Health Department
Photos marked "mouse poop, unidentified feces and urine stream" from Animal Care and Control facility.

A cardboard box with "1 gallon plastic bottles" printed on its side also had "Rabies Tags 2020" written on it in Sharpie. The photos suggest that Amazon Prime boxes and boxes from Chipotle Catering were used to store records as well.

The RFT also obtained invoices from Orkin pest control for services rendered at the Animal Care and Control facility on October 13. The invoices cite infestations of crickets and spiders as well as "severe/heavy" infestations of cockroaches.

The invoices do make reference to a storage room, but give no indication whether that area was any more or less infested than other areas mentioned, which include the dishwashing area, the employee break area, laundry room, locker area, office space, and rest rooms.

In total, Orkin charged the county $2,200, including $500 for a bed bug treatment.

Pedroli said last week on KTRS’ In the Know radio show that he's skeptical of the county's story about vermin infesting the documents that were destroyed.

click to enlarge Photos of Animal Care and Control records obtained by the RFT.
St. Louis County Health Department
Photos of Animal Care and Control records obtained by the RFT.

"I've never heard of a problem with bugs or mice that destroys 20,000 pounds of records," he told host Ray Hartmann, adding that county employees had been going through these records for the last two years and pulling out ones responsive to his Sunshine requests and the ongoing litigation.

click to enlarge Photos of Animal Care and Control records obtained by the RFT.
St. Louis County Health Department
Photos of Animal Care and Control records obtained by the RFT.

"It seems strange to me that all of a sudden when the plaintiff in this case sends a Sunshine request, … that they start to disappear them," he said.

Pedroli told the RFT via text message that he hadn't received all the records he requested prior to the destruction of the 20,000 pounds of material.

"They shorted me a bunch of records," he said. "They didn't give me intake forms for entire months that we asked for, that we know existed."

click to enlarge Photo marked "roaches and mouse poop" from St. Louis Animal Care and Control facility.
St. Louis County Health Department
Photo marked "roaches and mouse poop" from St. Louis Animal Care and Control facility.

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About The Author

Ryan Krull

Ryan Krull is a staff writer for the Riverfront Times. Find him on Twitter @ryanwkrull
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