October 20, 2014

MO Rep, Sen want special prosecutors in all police shootings

In situations like the shooting deaths of Michael Brown, Junior or Vonderrit Myers, Junior, two state lawmakers say the local prosecutor should automatically be taken off the case.

Representative Jay Barnes speaks on the House floor on SB 125 while it's Senate sponsor, Senator Jamilah Nasheed, looks on.  Barnes handled her bill in the House.  (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representative Jay Barnes and Senator Jamilah Nasheed (file photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Senator Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, and Representative Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, want to offer legislation to require that a special prosecutor head up investigations of officer-involved fatal shootings.

Nasheed wants to file that bill because of the unrest among people in Ferguson after Michael Brown shooting, “Due to the fact that, one, they felt he was shot unjustifiably, and also they don’t believe that there will be a fair and impartial investigation due to the fact that [St. Louis County Prosecutor] Bob McCulloch has a deep water relationship with law enforcement officers there.”

Barnes says such a change would combat the public perception that bias can exist no matter who the individuals involved are.

“There is a perception from the public,” says Barnes, “that a person who works with another person all of the time, or with another entity all of the time, would have a more difficult time making a reasoned judgment about whether to move forward with a case.”

Both say details of a bill are still being considered and they expect to file one for the session that begins in January. Barnes says the easiest approach might be to simply require that an outside agency investigate a fatal officer-involved shooting, and that the Attorney General or its designee handle prosecution if a case comes to that.

Asked its opinion of the concept, the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys released this statement from its president, Boone County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Knight:

“The American prosecutor’s authority is derived directly from the people through popular election. In order to promote the integrity of the criminal justice system, and to guard against political influences, the prosecutor must remain autonomous from other executive branch officials.

No legislator has reached out to us to discuss the issue of expansion of the special prosecutor statute. While we are always willing to discuss ideas, Missouri’s prosecutors have traditionally resisted efforts to shift the trust and discretion that the people have placed in us to other government officials.

We are hopeful that the legislature will instead work with us to improve the delivery of vital services to crime victims, which currently face significant funding challenges.”

Both Nasheed and Barnes say they will reach out to the Prosecuting Attorneys’ association and the Missouri Bar about the issue.

‘Gone Girl’ could fuel debate about a gone Missouri tax credit

“Gone Girl” stars Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike in the story of a wife who disappears and the reaction of a town and the media to it.

Representative Kathryn Swan (courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representative Kathryn Swan (courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Tax credits that helped bring production of that film to Missouri have also disappeared, and Representative Kathy Swan, R-Cape Girardeau, wants to bring them back.

The Motion Picture Association of America reports “Gone Girl” contributed more than $7-million to Missouri’s economy, hiring 116 Missourians and using 1,400 extras. The film was shot primarily in Cape Girardeau over about two months.

Swan thinks renewing the state’s film production tax credit would help bring more film industry dollars to the state.

“There was a sunset on that film tax credit and that’s why I had filed a bill to extend that, and I will do that again,” Swan tells Missourinet.

The maker of “Gone Girl.” 20th Century Fox, was able to take advantage of that program before it expired and received nearly 900-thousand dollars in tax credits.

Swan knows tax credits, in general, face stiff opposition. Her fellow lawmaker from Cape Girardeau, Senator Wayne Wallingford, told the Southeast Missourian he doesn’t believe the state gets enough in return for tax credits issued under that program.

Swan hopes the benefit of “Gone Girl” to the Cape and the state will help her cause.

“I think we need to look at the benefit that each [tax credit] does provide the state and make a determination as a legislature on the future of them individually, not as a whole.”

She tells Missourinet that she and other supporters of that credit know that not every film that shoots in Missouri will be a “Gone Girl.”

“However, we do want to be in the market for other, smaller productions, and we can very easily do that with a competitive package,” says Swan. “We’ve done some research comparing what Missouri’s program is compared to some of the other states and we worked through a conference committee substitute bill that … sort of hits the middle road on some of the different specifics of the tax credit.”

Swan expects to offer legislation that would extend that tax credit in the new session that begins in January.

She got to see “Gone Girl” in an advance screening last night in Cape Girardeau. That film opens in theaters nationwide, today.

MO House Committee will look at Water Patrol training, not Ellingson drowning

A state House committee review of the merger of the state Water Patrol with the Highway Patrol begins Wednesday.

Representatives Don Phillips (left) and Jeff Roorda (courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representatives Don Phillips (left) and Jeff Roorda (courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Two members of that committee are former law enforcement officers, who spoke with Missourinet about what the committee will, and won’t, look at in relation to the drowning of 20-year-old Brandon Ellingson while in Water Patrol custody in May.

That incident was not referenced in a media release announcing the formation of that committee, but Representatives Jeff Roorda, D-Barnhardt, and Don Phillips, R-Kimberling City, both say it was likely a catalyst. That announcement came just eight days after a special prosecutor said there would be no charges against Anthony Piercy, the trooper who took Ellingson into custody.

“It was kind of a preemptive for causing attention to be put on the merger,” says Phillips. “That particular incident, as unfortunate as it was, was a good portion of the reason why this is being looked at, but not for us to investigate it.”

Phillips and Roorda both say it isn’t the committee’s job to look for new evidence in that case. The training of Water Patrol troopers will be something the committee looks at, though, in part because Piercy, a former road trooper, told a coroner’s inquest that he didn’t feel he had received enough training before going out on the water.

Phillips wants to learn how training compares to what he went through en route to becoming a Highway Patrol trooper.

“Having gone through … a 26 week academy when I went through in 1978, I got some of the greatest training a person could ever have,” says Phillips. “I’m not sure, until I hear some of the testimony, what’s going on with that now when you have the option of going to the water from the road and visa-versa.”

Roorda believes when legislative committees go looking for who is to blame for situations such as Ellingson’s drowning, lawmakers often learn they share part of the blame.

“A lot of times the answer is we are [to blame] for not fully funding the mission of our state agencies, and particularly the mission of our public safety agencies,” says Roorda. “If they didn’t get enough training it’s probably because we didn’t give them enough financial support to provide the training.”

Hearings are scheduled for Wednesday in the State Capitol and October 14 at the Osage Beach City Hall. The committee plans to have a report ready by the end of the year.

MO Ed Commissioner: staff not trying to steer discussion to Common Core

Missouri’s Commissioner of Education says her department isn’t trying to steer discussions about new academic standards back toward Common Core.

Work groups created by the passage of HB 1490 began meeting this week try and create a new set of academic standards that could replace Common Core standards currently in use. Some Republicans criticized the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, saying its staff was trying to be too involved in the work groups’ meetings. One work group chairman accused DESE staff of having an “agenda,” to steer the groups toward Common Core.

See earlier story on some Republicans’ complaints about the working groups’ first meetings

Commissioner Chris Nicastro says that’s not true.

“We’re trying to be helpful. We’re trying to follow the law,” says Nicastro. “We’ve provided the resources that are part of convening a process and we will continue to provide those upon request.”

Nicastro says from what staff has told her, Monday was “really tough,” and she thinks it stems in part from people having different ideas about what it means to “convene meetings,” as 1490 instructs the Department to do.

“Typically when we convene meetings or we initiate a process,” says Nicastro, “that means you schedule the meetings, you make arrangements for a meeting space, you make arrangements for technology or video if necessary, you make arrangements for somebody to take notes … to make sure that the meetings can get off on the right foot.”

Nicastro says some members of work groups felt DESE should not have involvement in many of those respects, “and … that’s fine. If they don’t want that assistance then certainly they can carry on as they choose.”

She thinks “confusion” was created by some work group members coming in assuming that the creation of new academic standards would begin from scratch. She thinks the place to start is with the standards that are being used now, and that’s Common Core.

“You always start with where you are,” says Nicastro, “then you decide: is this still adequate? Does this meet our needs? Is this in fact what kids should know and be able to do? Are we asking enough? Are we asking too much? It becomes kind of the starting point of the conversation.”

Nicastro acknowledges that other “starting points” might be different sets of standards favored by some group members, such as those used in other states.

The groups are scheduled to meet again in the coming week and Nicastro says DESE will continue to be available to them as requested.

Incoming House Speaker on mandating body cameras for police in Missouri

The anticipated next leader of the Missouri House has reservations about mandating body cameras for all police in the state.

House Majority Floor Leader and Speaker-elect John Diehl, Jr.  (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

House Majority Floor Leader and Speaker-elect John Diehl, Jr. (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Two urban state lawmakers say they will file bills that would require all law enforcement officers in the state to wear body cameras. Speaker of the House-elect John Diehl, Junior (R-Town and Country), says that’s not an issue he thinks should be up to the state.

Earlier story: Two lawmakers want to mandate body cameras for Missouri law enforcement

“I don’t think this is something where it needs to be a state mandate on local governments on how they’re supposed to police,” Diehl tells Missourinet.

Diehl says he anticipates many local jurisdictions will make the decision that using body cameras is a good idea. He thinks it should be up to them, too, to make policy decisions about how to use those cameras.

“For example,” says Diehl, “when is an officer required to have his camera on? What happens if the camera’s not on?”

Diehl makes clear, however, that as Speaker he would not let such bills won’t come up for consideration.

“I don’t want to go that far,” says Diehl. “I’m sure that this is a serious enough decision and a serious enough situation where it warrants some discussion, so I’m not going to make any predictions at this point as to what’s going to move and pass and what’s not.”

Prefiling of legislation begins December 1.