December 1, 2015

More victims’ assistance agencies express concern about budget deal, some Missouri federal lawmakers respond

More Missouri agencies who help crime victims are expressing their concern about a shift in federal funding for victims’ programs, but at least one of Missouri’s senators says that funding source is secure long-term.

Missouri Kids First Deputy Director Emily van Schenkhof

Missouri Kids First Deputy Director Emily van Schenkhof

The budget deal Congress and the president agreed to shifted 1.5-billion dollars out of the fund created by the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA), that comes from fines paid by those convicted of federal crimes.

Emily van Schenkhof with Missouri Kids First says almost all child advocacy centers get money from that fund.

“This funding is supposed to support victims of crime. We absolutely know that we are still not funding services for victims of crimes at the level we should, so the idea that we should take money away from that is very concerning, and you do wonder, ‘Is this just one time? Will this happen again? What does this mean for the future,” van Schenkhof told Missourinet.

Missouri Prosecutors’ Association Executive Director Jason Lamb says Missouri prosecutors also rely on that fund. They don’t have dedicated money for crime victims’ services, so they seek grants.

“Whatever can’t be paid for at the local level, prosecutors have traditional tried for competitive grants through VOCA and other crime victim opportunities,” said Lamb.

Missouri Prosecutors Association Executive Director Jason Lamb

Missouri Prosecutors Association Executive Director Jason Lamb

Missouri’s senators split their votes on that budget deal, but both say they did not support taking that money from the crime victims’ fund. Both also say the future of that fund is secure.

Senator Claire McCaskill’s (D) office, in a statement, said she did not support that provision on the budget deal, though she did vote for the deal.

“She held her nose to vote for the overall deal because it was a compromise which prevented a federal default that would have crippled our economy-but that doesn’t in any way detract from her commitment to fighting for more resources for victims of crime.”

Senator Roy Blunt (R) did not vote for that budget deal. His office said similar transfers have been made before but the money has always been replaced.

Missourinet reached out to all of Missouri’s members of the U.S. House. The only one to reply was southeast Missouri Congressman Jason Smith. He was already critical of the deal, and called the VOCA transfer one of its, “many terrible provisions.”

In a statement, Smith said, “It’s heartbreaking that the CVF was directly raided as a ‘budget gimmick’ to the detriment of victims. Just last week I was at the Child Advocacy Center in West Plains witnessing first-hand the real impact these budget cuts would have. This is just one more example of bad policy jammed through Congress at the last-minute avoiding regular order – it’s no way to conduct the people’s business.”


Convictions of Missouri man sentenced to death for ’91 ‘Chain of Rocks’ murders thrown out

The state Supreme Court on Tuesday threw out first-degree murder convictions for Reginald Clemons, who was sentenced to death in 1993 for the murders of sisters Julie Kerry, 20, and Robin Kerry, 19, on the Chain of Rocks Bridge in St. Louis.

Reginald Clemons (photo courtesy; Missouri Department of Corrections)

Reginald Clemons (photo courtesy; Missouri Department of Corrections)

The Court had appointed a retired judge to review the case and Clemons’ case that prosecutors had wrongly suppressed evidence and that detectives beat Clemons to force a confession. That judge, Michael Manners, sided with Clemons on those arguments and that they were not harmless mistakes as the state had argued, though he said they were not likely to change the verdicts against Clemons.

The Supreme Court could have taken a number of actions. It ruled 4-3 to send the case back to a circuit court for possible retrial.

The state has 60 days to retry Clemons. If it does not, the case would be dismissed. He would remain in prison, though, on a 15-year sentence in a different case.

Clemons and three other men were convicted of raping and murdering Julie and Robin Kerry in April, 1991. One of those men, Marlin Gray, was executed in 2005. Antonio Richardson was sentenced to death and his sentence was later changed to life without parole. Daniel Winfrey received a 30-year sentence in exchange for testimony and has been paroled.

Trooper says he’ll testify against Missouri in lawsuit over Iowa man’s drowning

A retiring state trooper who calls himself a whistleblower said he will testify if asked to in a federal suit against Missouri brought by the family of an Iowa man who drowned while in a trooper’s custody last year.

State Highway Patrol Sergeant Randy Henry (left) testifies while seated next to Patrol Superintendent Ron Replogle. Brandon Ellingson's father, Craig (black polo shirt) listens intently. (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

State Highway Patrol Sergeant Randy Henry (left) testifies to a House committee October 1, 2014, while seated next to Patrol Superintendent Ron Replogle. Brandon Ellingson’s father, Craig (black polo shirt) listens. (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Brandon Ellingson drowned after a Water Patrol trooper handcuffed him and improperly put a life jacket on him on Memorial Day, 2014. Retiring trooper Randy Henry says Ellingson’s death was the result of the 2011 merger of the Water and Highway patrols. He had been critical of the merger and took that criticism public after Ellingson’s death.

Henry was facing an internal complaint and demotion, but the complaint was withdrawn late last month. He then retired before hearings in his appeal of that demotion.

Henry said he was being demoted in retaliation for his whistleblowing. The Jefferson City News Tribune reported the Patrol accused Henry of misconduct for obtaining information from a 2013 investigation, leaking it, lying about it, and instructing another person to lie about what he knew.

Henry told Missourinet he could not comment on how the disciplinary situation was resolved, except to say it has been resolved. He claimed his attorney was going to be prevented from calling witnesses to support his position.

“We knew that we were going to lose and I was prepared to take it to the circuit court and appeal it when we did lose,” said Henry. “They knew that and I’m sure that’s one of the reasons why they cancelled the hearing because they knew they would lose it in the circuit court. We were confident of that.”

As for the merger, Henry alleges the patrol, Governor Jay Nixon, and Attorney General Chris Koster are involved in a cover-up following Ellingson’s death because, he said, it was a result of the merger. Henry said he thought there was a cover-up beginning when he was told he didn’t need to write a report on the drowning, even after talking to Trooper Anthony Piercy, the trooper who had taken Ellingson into custody, about the incident.

“When I’m not requested to do a report when I’m responsible for his training and I interviewed him in-depth that night without doing a report, I knew the fix was in,” said Henry. “You wouldn’t do any other type of investigation that way.”

Henry said he would make himself available in the federal suit filed against Missouri by the Ellingson family.

“I will make myself available for all court proceedings. Whether I’m going to be deposed again or not I don’t know, but obviously if this goes to trial I will be a cooperating witness for the Ellingson family.”

Henry’s retirement is effective next month.

The Attorney General’s Office, the Governor’s Office and the Patrol declined a request for comment on this story.

The Attorney General’s office was recently fined $9,500 because attorneys for the Patrol failed to comply with a court order to release agency e-mails related to the Ellingson family’s lawsuit.

St. Louis County cities’ suit challenges constitutionality of Missouri municipal court law

Twelve cities in St. Louis County, and the mayors of two others, have filed a lawsuit calling the municipal court reform bill passed this year unconstitutional.

Governor Jay Nixon (left) signed the municipal court reform bill sponsored by Senator Eric Schmitt. (Bill Greenblatt/UPI)

Governor Jay Nixon (left) in August signed the municipal court reform bill sponsored by Senator Eric Schmitt (right). (Bill Greenblatt/UPI)

Senate Bill 5 was passed with overwhelming support in the state legislature and signed into law by Governor Jay Nixon (D). It lowers the limit on the amount of cities’ annual general operating revenue that can come from fines, forfeitures, and court costs stemming from minor traffic violations from the 30-percent set by what was commonly known as the Macks Creek law. That limit was lowered to 20-percent for most of the cities in the state, but to 12.5-percent for cities in St. Louis County.

The suit calls that disparity, “an extraordinary act of overt discrimination.” The cities say the law creates a “special class of political subdivisions” defined by the wording that identifies St. Louis County. It argues that the previous Macks Creek law and its 30-percent cap for 20 years represented a “general law” that applied equally to all municipalities, and the creation of two different cap levels when a “general law” could be used is unconstitutional.

Further, the suit argues that the reduction in revenue would, “wreak havoc and devastation in the St. Louis County municipalities’ ability to provide their customary government functions and services.”

The suit also challenges what it calls “new and expensive administrative activities,” including the requirements of annual audits, compliance reports, accreditation or certification of police forces, the purchase of adequate insurance to minimize risk, and the requirement of a balanced budget. It criticizes those requirements as being unconstitutional since the state requires them but requires cities to pay for them – commonly called an “unfunded mandate.”

Senator Eric Schmitt (R-Glendale) sponsored SB 5 and calls the lawsuit, “the last gasp of a broken system that was desperate for reform.”

Schmitt told Missourinet there are dozens of laws in Missouri that deal with particular counties or particular cities.

“I think that the longstanding precedent that has been established in Missouri is that you can have laws that deal with different challenges in different parts of the state, and the legal argument that they’re making is nonsense,” said Schmitt.

As for the challenge of the standards required by SB 5, Schmitt said he thinks most people would be shocked to learn that their city doesn’t require a balanced budget or an annual audit. He challenged the position that those standards present an unfunded mandate.

“They have plenty of existing resources to deal with this, existing personnel. There is no need to expand government to comply with rational minimum standards that are in this bill,” said Schmitt.

The suit was filed today in Cole County Circuit Court. The state has not responded, but Attorney General Chris Koster said in a statement, “SB5 passed overwhelmingly with strong bipartisan support. The law seeks to stop municipalities from abusing citizens through excessive ticketing practices. My office will vigorously defend the bill against this legal challenge.”

The suit was brought by the cities of Normandy, Cool Valley, Velda Village Hills, Glen Echo Park, Bel Ridge, Bel-Noir, Pagedale, Moline Acres, Uplands Park, Vinita Park, Northwoods, and Wellston. Normandy Mayor Patrick Green and Pagedale mayor Mary Louise Carter are also plaintiffs listed as taxpayers living in their respective communities.

U.S. Supreme Court consideration of Texas abortion law could affect Missouri laws

The U.S. Supreme Court has decided to hear its first major abortion case in nearly a decade, and it could affect Missouri’s laws regulating abortions.

Samuel Lee

Samuel Lee

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the challenge of a Texas law that requires facilities that provide abortions to meet the standards for ambulatory surgical centers, and requires doctors that perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. Both are requirements of Missouri law as well.

Lobbyist Samuel Lee, president of the pro-life group Campaign Life Missouri, said the Court’s decision in that case could affect more than those two provisions here.

“The court is not only going to be looking at whether the specific Texas statutes are constitutional or not, but also what states can do in the future and what criteria they can use in deciding whether a regulation of abortion is constitutional or not,” Lee told Missourinet. “As we go into the 2016 session I know lawmakers are very interested in further regulation of abortion in light of the allegations of the buying and selling of body parts from aborted babies, and from the hearings that have been held in the Missouri legislature.”

Lee said he welcomes the court taking up the case.

“To once again revisit the standard of what is and what is not constitutional when it comes to abortion regulation,” said Lee. “There’s confusion in the courts and we think it needs to be settled.”

Abortion rights supporters often call those provisions and other such restrictions attempts to limit access to abortions that lack medical basis, but Lee and other supporters of those provisions say they are aimed at protecting the health of mothers.

“There are some risks involved in having an abortion whether you’re talking about a surgical abortion or a so-called medical abortion; that is, a drug-induced abortion,” said Lee. “There are risks and occasionally a need for hospitalization or follow-up care. We think these are legitimate health concerns, but the state also has concern about the life of the unborn child.

“The U.S. Supreme Court has said that’s a legitimate interest of the state,” said Lee. “How far a state can go in terms of regulating abortion – that’s the big question, and that’s what, hopefully, the Supreme Court will decide by June or July of next year.”

Missouri’s provisions mirroring that Texas law have been at the forefront of controversy over the resumption of abortions at the Columbia Planned Parenthood facility earlier this year.  After a state Senate committee brought to light that the University of Missouri Health System had provided a St. Louis doctor with privileges that only allowed her to refer a patient to its Columbia hospital and check on that patient’s wellbeing and lawmakers questioned whether such privileges met the requirement of Missouri law, the University system discontinued such “refer and follow” privileges.  Without those privileges, the Columbia facility is scheduled to have to discontinue abortions again, December 1.   Planned Parenthood has criticized that committee and its chairman, and the University for what it said amounted to caving to political pressure.

The same committee has questioned whether the Columbia facility meets the standards of an ambulatory surgical center.

Missourinet reached out to Planned Parenthood of Kansas & Mid-Missouri for an interview on the case but an interview was not granted by Tuesday afternoon.

The court will likely hear arguments around February.