By Aaron Malin
On May 20, 2015, Show-Me Cannabis announced the latest in a series of lawsuits aimed at requiring Missouri's multi-jurisdictional drug task forces to obey state laws regarding open public records and open public meetings. The case filed today targets the MUSTANG Task Force, headquartered in Cole County and also operating in Boone, Callaway, and Cooper Counties, for its ongoing, unlawful refusal to properly allow Show-Me Cannabis access to open public records.
"The Task Force clearly understands that it is subject to Missouri's Sunshine Law," said Aaron Malin, Director of Research for Show-Me Cannabis. "But over the past year the Task Force has unlawfully redacted information from open public records, intentionally provided documents other than those we have requested and, more recently, ceased responding altogether to our requests for open public records."
"It has been more than twenty-five years since Missouri courts firmly established that law enforcement officials are required to respond properly to Sunshine Law requests, and eight years since courts made clear that this obligation existed even if the same organization submitted multiple requests," explained Dave Roland, the attorney representing Show-Me Cannabis in the lawsuit.
More than one month ago Roland sent a letter to Callaway County Sheriff Dennis Crane, the Task Force's Custodian of Records, reminding him of the legal decisions affirming his responsibility under the Sunshine Law and warning that his continued refusal to comply with Show-Me Cannabis's requests could result in litigation. Despite this letter, Crane has steadfastly refused to respond to at least three requests for open public records that Show-Me Cannabis made between December 29, 2014, and April 1, 2015.
"It would be one thing if the Task Force had claimed either that it had no records matching the requests or that the law prohibited it from producing the requested records - but the Sunshine Law does not give MUSTANG the option of flatly refusing to respond to citizens' lawful requests for open public records," Roland added.
Unfortunately, MUSTANG is not alone in its disregard for Missouri's Sunshine Law. Earlier this year Show-Me Cannabis published a report entitled, "Secret, Dangerous, and Unaccountable: Exploring Patterns of Misconduct in Missouri's Drug Task Forces" which detailed numerous examples of these drug task forces flouting state laws that demand their transparency and accountability to the public. The report is available at www.Show-MeCannabis.com/Report. Show-Me Cannabis also has litigation pending against St. Louis City's Metro Multi-Jurisdictional Undercover Drug Program, the Kansas City Multi-Jurisdictional Task Force, and the East Central Missouri Drug Task Force, headquartered in Audrain County, for similar violations of the Sunshine Law. Details regarding these cases are available to the public at www.Show-MeCannabis.com/Media/Press.
"Missouri's drug task forces are trusted to enforce the law, but they routinely ignore the laws designed to hold them accountable to the public," plaintiff Aaron Malin said. "Missouri law gives citizens a right to know what their government is doing on their behalf. We are pursuing these cases to prove once and for all that law enforcers are not themselves above the law."