St. Louis asks judge to rule ‘police bill of rights’ law unconstitutional

By: - December 3, 2021 4:27 pm

The Cole County Courthouse in Jefferson City (Tessa Weinberg/Missouri Independent).

The City of St. Louis filed a lawsuit Friday asking a judge to strike down a wide-ranging bill that passed in May bolstering protections for police under investigation for misconduct.

The city’s lawsuit targets a portion of a bill called the “Law Enforcement Bill of Rights,” a list of more than 15 new requirements that includes giving officers written notice of the allegation before an investigation begins and putting a 90-day limit on misconduct investigations.

The bill’s sponsor Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, touted it as a series of changes “that seek to strengthen (officers’) due process rights when they’ve been accused of misconduct in an internal investigation.” 

Senate Bill 26 was signed by Gov. Mike Parson in July and went into effect Aug. 28.

The lawsuit, filed in Cole County Court, alleges the legislation is unconstitutional because it creates an unfunded mandate for the city and creates two classes of public-safety employees — the police and every other public-safety employee.

It also conflicts with how the city charter outlines discipline and legal representation for police officers, the lawsuit says. 

The bill “is an unfunded mandate that subverts equal protection guaranteed under the law,” the mayor’s spokesman Nick Dunne told the Independent on Friday.

St. Louis Metropolitan Police Chief John Hayden opposed the bill in a Feb. 1 letter to legislators, stating that giving officers advanced notice could jeopardize an investigation. It also requires that law enforcement agencies give officers notice of who will be conducting the investigation. Some of the requirements could also have a “chilling effect” for witnesses who want to come forward, Hayden wrote at the time.

The legislation “significantly interferes with our ability to meet the expectations of Missouri residents with respect to holding officers accountable for sustained allegations of misconduct,” Hayden stated.

The Senate bill also included a provision penalizing cities that cut police budgets, which is a way to counter the call to “defund the police,” Eigel said. 

“Defund the police” is an umbrella term that includes initiatives like allocating police funds to hire social workers to handle certain 911 calls, which Hayden and the city’s public safety director both support.

And while the bill was originally titled as “relating to public safety,” the lawsuit states that it grew from seven to 88 sections and added amendments related to lotteries, pesticide regulation and electric fences, which didn’t pertain to public safety. 

This violates the “single-subject” provision of the Missouri Constitution, the lawsuit argues. 

The legislation “includes a miscellany of provisions that have little or nothing to do with the state’s Department of Public Safety or public safety in general,” the lawsuit states. 

Numerous times over the years, the Missouri Supreme Court has thrown out wide-ranging bills that violate the state constitution’s prohibition against multiple subjects in a bill.

St. Louis argues the entire bill should be deemed unconstitutional because it wouldn’t have passed “if the circuit attorney payments, lotteries, pesticide regulations, and taxation provisions had not been injected.”

One provision, added by Rep. Mark Sharp, D-Kansas City, impacts minors who have served at least 15 years of their sentence would be eligible for parole, except in certain cases like murder in the first degree.

The amendment was inspired by Bobby Bostic, who was sentenced to 241 years in prison when he was 16 after he and a friend committed a pair of armed robberies in 1995.

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Rebecca Rivas
Rebecca Rivas

Rebecca Rivas is a multimedia reporter who covers Missouri's cannabis industry. A graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, she has been reporting in Missouri since 2001, including more than a decade as senior reporter and video producer at the St. Louis American, the nation’s leading African-American newspaper.