The lawyer for a county prosecuting attorney facing felony charges wants the state Attorney General’s office disqualified from his client’s case.
Moniteau County Prosecuting Attorney Shayne Healea is accused of driving his pickup truck partially through a window of a popular downtown Columbia restaurant while intoxicated, which resulted in injury and property damage.
Healea is also accused of leaving the scene of the accident. He was arrested the same day in October 2014, and taken to the police station where evidence collected by officers has been called into question.
Healea claims a conversation with his attorney that was secretly recorded by officers was a violation of department policy, as well as the Missouri and U.S. Constitutions. He also questions whether police had a signed search warrant when they drew his blood the night of the crash. The complications have contributed to the case being dragged into its fourth year of litigation.
Boone County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Knight disqualified his office from Healea’s criminal case, citing a conflict because he and Healea were officers in the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.
The case was subsequently assigned to an assistant attorney general in November 2014, and its venue was changed from Boone County to Shelby County. The attorney general’s office charged Healea with five felonies, including four counts of vehicular assault while intoxicated.
During the discovery phase of the proceedings in 2014, the state submitted evidence to Healea’s attorney, which included a video of the secret recording by police of his arrest day conversation with his lawyer. Healea, at the time, was unaware of the contents of the video which was titled “Building Video Number 5”.
Suspecting such a recording existed, his attorney sought further disclosure from the state almost two years later in March 2016.
The Assistant Attorney General handling the case at the time, Julie Tolle, said that she had investigated the complaint and spoke to the arresting officer, as well as the Columbia Chief of Police, and assured the trial court in Shelby County that no such recording was ever made.
After Healea’s attorney filed further court documents suspecting the recording did exist, a “special master” was appointed with the consent of both parties in October 2016. The special master, retired Circuit Judge Hadley Grimm, held a hearing to sort through Healea’s claims.
In December 2016, Grimm issued a report in which he determined the video, “Building Video Number 5”, did contain privileged attorney-client communications and was a violation of Sixth Amendment rights. The report also contained a transcript of a portion of the recording, leading Healea’s attorney to file an objection.
The circuit court did not hold a hearing on the objection, and also refused Healea’s request to close the courtroom during a February 2017 hearing about how to address the Sixth Amendment violation.
The court then announced its intention to unseal the master’s report despite Healea’s contention that doing so would divulge attorney-client communications. It further rejected Healea’s move to suppress evidence from the blood drawn on the night of his arrest.
Later in June 2017, upon an application for transfer by Healea’s attorney, the state’s Eastern District Court of Appeals, reversed the circuit court’s decisions. It ordered the trial court to disqualify the attorney general’s office from the case and instead appoint a special prosecutor.
It further ordered the lower bench to seal portions of the special master’s report containing attorney-client information, and hold a hearing about whether the Columbia Police Department should be required to purge their servers of the attorney-client privileged conversation they recorded.
The Missouri Supreme Court then accepted an application for transfer from the attorney general’s office.
Healea’s attorney, Shane Farrow, argued before the high bench Tuesday for the disqualification of the attorney general’s office from the case.
After noting that the Columbia Police department violated constitutional rights when it secretly video recorded an attorney-client phone conversation, he said the fact that the attorney general’s office harbored the recording for two years without admitting it undermines confidence in the justice system.
“The only way to remedy that is to take the video away from the police department, so it’s not an ongoing violation of that issue,” said Farrow. “And secondly, (it’s necessary) to then appoint a special prosecutor to go forward with the case after the video’s been purged, and the officers who have reviewed the video have also been screened off from the prosecution of the case.”
Farrow also questioned the office’s claim that none of its investigators viewed the recording, while stating that the office had collaborated with Columbia Police on its case against Healea.
“We don’t know that everybody in the attorney general’s office has not viewed this at some point, that there’s not some investigator somewhere whose looked at this,” Farrow said. “And what we do know is that they have talked to their investigating officers in preparation for this case.”
First Assistant Attorney General John Sauer flatly dismissed Farrow’s assertion that anybody in the office had ever viewed the video.
“No member of the attorney general’s office ever reviewed the recording, and Healea can sight no evidence to the contrary,” said Sauer. “I stand by that representation.”
In addition to having the attorney general’s office dismissed from the case, Healea is seeking to have the the search warrant Columbia Police used to draw his blood invalidated because the department can’t produce a warrant signed by a judge as is legally required.
He also claims a hearing should be held to determine if the Columbia Police Department’s sever should be purged of the video it secretly recorded.
Healea is further asking for the portion of the special master’s report that includes the video to be sealed, and is calling for his complaint that the report doesn’t address all his concerns in the case to be heard in court.
The Supreme Court did not hand down a decision in the case Tuesday, and typically does so weeks after arguments are made.