Monday, August 25, 2014

Ticket Trap

With the spotlight shining on Ferguson, a practice is coming into full view of some among St. Louis County’s innumerable municipalities using aggressive, perhaps unfair, traffic ticketing to fund their operations.

 

Governing Magazine has the story here.  Pull Quote: While the media has focused largely on the police department’s testy relationship with the majority-black community and the city’s shifting demographics, longstanding frustration with the municipal court system may have also contributed to the civil unrest, say some.

 

See NBC’s story here.  Pull Quote: Some officials have been critical of the rash of ticketing in northern St. Louis County. Among them is former St. Louis County Police Chief Tom Fitch. In a blog written before he retired last February, he railed in particular against speed cameras, which some towns have put up along major roadways to slow traffic, or, according to Fitch, “in order to generate as many violations as possible.” The result, he said, was to “feed off some of the poorest people in the St. Louis region.”

 

And

Here’s a first-person testimonial from 2003 from Lee Presser (leepresser@charter.net).  Have things changed in the past ten years?...

 

On Wednesday, April 16, 2003, I was in Bel-Ridge, Missouri, Municipal Court to plead "not guilty."  The violation listed on the ticket did not match the reality of what actually happened on the road.  In a file folder, I had documents and photographs to rebut the charge.  The ticket stated that Court convened at 6:30 P.M.  I arrived twenty minutes early.

Before 9:30 that evening, I had been tightly handcuffed twice, verbally abused by police, pushed into a depressing detention cell, and made an example of in front of seventy-five to one hundred people…

It was raining that evening.  I was wearing a business suit.  My umbrella was in my car but that night I was driving a rental because my car was in the shop.  After walking the five minutes to where the crowd was lined up, we were made to stand in the rain for another ten minutes before the police officers processed us into the building.  While in line, I was asked several times if I was an attorney.

Inside the door, I was told to empty my pockets into a small basket.  This included my cell phone, which I had already turned off.  The police officer ran a metal detector wand over me.  When I went to collect my things from the basket, the police officer took my phone and put it on the floor with a large number of other cell phones taken from the seventy-five or more defendants already seated inside.  I told the officer that I was concerned about making sure I got my phone back.  He answered by saying, "That's your problem."  At that moment my internal radar came on.

Again, I was asked, "Are you an attorney?"  After stating that I was not, I was pointed to the check-in window.  At the window I was asked again. Standing there in my suit, holding my file and a book, I said, "No."  The other defendants were in tee-shirts, slacks, and other casual clothes.  They were mostly black, only a hand full of us were white.  After check-in I moved toward a seat near the front so I could better hear the proceedings. One of the police officers stopped me and told me to "sit over there."  He directed me to a metal folding chair near the back of the room.

The room was long but very narrow.  It had a low ceiling.  I was sitting far from the judge, at least fifty feet back, maybe more.  There were maybe twenty rows of eight chairs per row.  The rows were divided into two sections.  There were five seats in the right section, an aisle, then three seats in the left section.  There were probably fifteen rows between me and the Court.  Defendants filled almost every seat.  There were maybe 120 people seated between me and the judge.  I'm guessing there were 140 defendants in that small room.

As noted above, most of the defendants were black.  We were surrounded by seven white police officers.  They were not friendly, they were not helpful, and they treated the people in that room as if they were criminals.  Many of the officers were verbally abusive to defendants.

When the Municipal Court proceedings were called to order by the judge, he spoke to this large crowd for about five minutes.  We in the back could not hear what the judge was saying.  Sitting next to me was one of the few white defendants in the room.  He raised his hand, then waved it, but was not recognized by the judge.  He then spoke out loud, "we cannot hear the judge in the back."  One of the officers shouted at him to "shut up."

I brought a paperback book to read while I waited to plead not guilty.  But, I was so disturbed by what I saw going on around me, I could not focus on the book.  Quietly, in a voice that did not carry, I asked some of the people near me why they were there.  One black man, Antonio D., stated that he had been stopped for speeding in a private parking lot.  The white man from St. Charles, Missouri, who was sitting next to me, stated that he had been stopped on the Interstate for doing 81 MPH.  He said he was going fast but nowhere near 81 MPH.  He immediately asked the officer to see the radar readout, the officer refused and wrote the ticket.  An older black man was cited for driving without a license.  He told me he didn't know how to file the papers to get his driver's license back after the suspension period ended and he did not have the money to hire a Traffic attorney.

Most of the people in the room did not look like they could easily afford an attorney.  If they had hired attorneys, the attorneys would have settled most of the cases being heard that day.  Instead a mostly black group of defendants was made to sit in metal folding chairs, some of them for hours, surrounded by seven white police officers, being judged by an all white Court.

A long time had passed since our first conversation.  Finally, I quietly said to those near me, "I don't like the police officers being so abusive to the people in the crowd.  It's not right."  I looked toward the seats behind us, and standing behind the last row, one of the officers was glaring at me.

Within a few minutes a different police officer approached me, asked my name, and walked toward the front.  Everyone sitting near me was amazed.  As far as we had seen, I was the only one in that room who was asked to supply their name.  Later two officers approached and asked me to follow them. They told me to put my hands behind my back.  They said I was being arrested for Contempt of Court.  I asked, "for what?"  One officer actually said I was being arrested for being a "disruptive influence because I was reading my book and talking to my neighbors."  In front of the remaining crowd, they roughly and tightly put handcuffs on me.  While this was going on, I was looking at the people with whom I had been sitting.  I said in their direction, "I'm being arrested for reading my book and talking to you."  The officer jerked my arms and growled, "shut up."

I was taken out of that building by a side door and walked in the pouring rain to another building…   He put me in a very small holding cell.  It was three small steps long and one step wide.  Being in there was shocking and depressing.

I saw no paperwork, no warrant, no nothing.  No charges were read to me.  I was not finger printed.  "This couldn't be legal," I thought…

Later, a different police officer came into the cell.  I was being taken back to the Court building.  He handcuffed me, this time squeezing them even tighter than the first time.  The cuffs left marks on my wrist…  Once we were back in the Municipal Court building, he removed the handcuffs and put me into a chair near the front, along the wall, where they make prisoners in jump suits sit. I asked for the folder.  He refused to return it.  Later I saw him and others looking through the papers in the folder….

Even at this late hour there was still a long line of defendants waiting to have their case heard by the judge.  Now that I was up front, where I wanted to sit in the first place, I could hear how this Court conducted itself, and I wasn't impressed.  One hard-of-hearing older white woman was there because she had been cited for having trash in her yard.  I believe she was told to pay $150 per citation.  As she was leaving, I saw several of the officers laughing at her behind her back.  Many other defendants were treated in what I considered an insensitive, if not abusive, manner.

When all the defendants were heard and out of the room, I was called before the judge.  I was alone with the Court and the police officers… The charges were read and I was asked how I would plead.  "Not guilty," I said.  In reality, I wanted to say that I did not understand the reason the ticket was issued in the first place.  But, being afraid for my well-being in this Court Room, I thought the best thing I could do was to say not guilty and ask for a jury trial.  In that way, people other than this judge and this prosecutor would decide my fate.  I told him that I wanted this case set for a jury trial.  He said something legalistic that I took to mean that if I could not ask for it in the correct legal language than I could not have a jury trial.

I said to the judge that if he would take five minutes now to look at the documents and pictures in my folder, he would see that there was no need for this to go any further.  Anyone looking at the material in the folder would immediately see that the ticket made no sense and that the charge should be dismissed.  He again gave some legalistic answer that meant no.  I had the feeling he did not want this settled.  He wanted me in this room again…

After being dismissed by the judge, a police officer, acting as the Bailiff, handed me a notice which stated that my new court date was June 25, 2003….

After being in the Bel-Ridge Municipal Court, I have a better understanding of my traffic stop.  In my opinion, that traffic stop was a moneymaker for Bel-Ridge, Missouri.  In my opinion, the Bel-Ridge political establishment sends out its police force for the purpose of making money.  Bel-Ridge police seek out every minor infraction and issue a ticket which helps pay the salary's of all the public officials.  Again, it is my opinion that Bel-Ridge and all other communities who use their police force as a moneymaker should be stopped.  If they will not stop, these communities should be disincorporated, removing their ability to use police powers for that purpose...

 

AuBuchon To Open Shop

Rich AuBuchon is leaving Polsinelli and will be hanging out  a shingle… the AuBuchon Law Firm, which will likely handle both legal and lobbying work.

 

Before Polsinelli, AuBuchon was with the Missouri Chamber, and had a stint with Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder as well and the Matt Blunt administration.

 

ACLU Runs Web Ads on Abortion Bill

It looks like the ACLU is running ads asking people to call their state representative and state senators on HB 1307 – the abortion wait bill.  Specifically targeted are Sens. Ryan Silvey, David Pearce and Bob Dixon.

 

As a reminder the handy-dandy MOScout Veto Session Spreadsheet can be seen here. It lists the bills, who testified in favor and against, links to the bill summaries and veto letters, and the vote break-downs on each bill.

 

Michael Brown Funeral

The funeral service for Michael Brown is scheduled for this morning at 10am… The crowd-funding donations for the family have exceeded the $200K goal.  See it here.

 

Stelzer for House 80

Robert Stelzer started a campaign committee to run for House 80 as a Democrat in 2016.  This appears to be part of the new fad (a la Hanaway) of declaring for an office before the cycle actual begins.  The current state representative, Mike Colona, will be termed in 2016.  His expected replacement, Missy Pinkerton, recently switched to run for Alderman after her alderman was appointed to Recorder of Deeds, when the current recorder resigned due to nepotism charges.  Got it?

 

Stelzer is the son of a St. Louis City committeeman.  He ran for state representative in 2008, taking third (22% of the vote) in a five-way primary which Colona won (42% of the vote).

 

Follow-Up Lembke for Onder… Not So Fast, Drebes.

A source close to the Onder operations says that Sen-elect Bob Onder has NOT made any personnel decisions regarding his Senate staff.  Onder is seeking applicants for all staff positions, including chief of staff…

 

Fundraising Calendar

Powered by Mary Scruggs’ indispensable events calendar:

Rep. Genise Montecillo – Fire Fighter Local 73, 4271 Delor, St. Louis – 5pm - 8pm.

 

$5K+ Contributions

Midwest Region Laborers’ Political League Education Fund - $5,489 from Laborers Supplemental Dues Fund.

Midwest Region Laborers’ Political League Education Fund - $5,616 from Laborers Supplemental Dues Fund.

Citizens for Steve Stenger - $10,000 from Centene Management Company LLC.

Missourians for Koster - $7,500f rom MACO Development Company LLC.

Citizens for Rapid Response - $8,000 from Wentzville Professional Firefighters.

Connect KC - $27,433 from Sly James for Mayor.

Sanders of Jackson County - $10,000 from Dollar Burns Becker.

Dempsey for Missouri - $15,000 from Lewis & Clark Leadership Forum.

 

Happy Birthday

Happy birthday to Rep. Josh Peters (27).

 

Congratulations

To St. Louis County Assessor Jake Zimmerman and wife, Megan, on the birth of their son, Gabriel Charles Zimmerman (6 lbs, 2 ounces; 20 inches).