City of St. Louis Continues to Harass

Court.rchp.com was created mostly in response to my personal experience with municipal harassment from the City of St. Louis. This harassment occurred after a job loss when I was most vulnerable and least able to afford legal representation. "Kick a man when he's down," is a bully tactic, used by cowards and predators. One of the methods of harassment involved fining me for failure to respond or correct violations for which I was never given notice.

The City of St. Louis has either lost or dismissed every action against me, except one, which is currently before the Missouri Court of Appeals. That case originated during 2013, in St. Louis municipal court, where I lost (just about every case I've won against the city, I first lost in municipal court). I then filed trial de novo, the case was heard in St. Louis Circuit Court by a judge who had previously  worked for the St. Louis Convention and Visitor's Commission, I lost. The irony is that the judge was black, personable and I actually liked him, although I didn't like his decision. Many judges appear biased against self-represented (pro se) litigants and this judge had worked for the city. That's why I requested a jury trial, but that request was denied, which is one of my points of appeal. The court of appeals has had the case since early 2015 and the case was recently docketed and submitted on briefs, so I expect a decided soon.

Yesterday, I received a fine assessment of $200 concerning this property for violations that I again received no notices for. Some of the violations appear to be among those being appealed. I am certain that the city must be illegally targeting others. The City of St. Louis has just intensified my desire to spread legal knowledge to everyone. If you believe the city of St. Louis has targeted you unfairly, please contact us and share your story. We may also plan a series of informational pickets at St. Louis Municipal Court, please let us know if you would like to participate.

Fortunately, there is proposed legislation to limit non-traffic municipal ordinance revenue, however, that legislation won't have much effect on St. Louis City, since their budget is over a billion dollars. A ten or twenty percent cap on fines would still allow the City of St. Louis to collect $100 or $200 million in fines.  There could also be a $200 fine limit imposed on future municipal violations. My alleged violations, which included failure to paint a fence, were each assessed fines of $500.

Abusive Tactics

The City of St. Louis uses abusive tactics, including stalling, to drag cases out. Their  actions force people to repeatedly attend court proceedings for minor violations unless of course they plead guilty and pay the fine. Because this tactic was used against me and I was forced to appear many times in St. Louis municipal court, I was able to witness a pattern of disrespect, abuse and disregard for people's rights that became obvious to not only myself but many others in attendance.

One woman was treated so badly by the judge, she broke down in tears. She was chastised because she didn't have money to pay the fine. It was difficult to watch. If you dare to exercise your rights, you are threatened with increased fines and court costs. Fines are being used not only as revenue generators but also as scare tactics to force people to relinquish their rights. This only works because people allow themselves to be intimated by the system.

I could at least competently assert my rights and defend myself. But as I witnessed people, some who were obviously overwhelmed and seemed desperate,  being abused by the courts; I couldn't help but wonder if the city's harsh treatment might create another Cookie Thornton type situation.

Cookie Thornton

Charles Lee "Cookie" Thornton, was a lifelong resident of Meacham Park, an unincorporated, mostly African American community. In 1992, Kirkwood annexed the Meacham Park area. Upon annexation, the municipal codes of Kirkwood became the law for Meacham Park, which had previously lacked municipal codes.

On February 7, 2008, Cookie Thornton fired shots during a Kirkwood city council meeting, that killed five , including two police officers, and wounded two others; one of the two wounded victims, the mayor, later died. Thornton was then shot and killed by police. SuperBowl Sunday will be the eighth anniversary of Thornton's Kirkwood shooting.

St. Louis Magazine published a four-part series about the Kirkwood Shootings, part one of the series, "Why did Cookie Kill?" starts off with:

"In the initial shock, it seemed simple: Cookie Thornton had gone crazy. Then people started commenting, and it seemed even simpler: A black man had gotten fed up with bigotry and taken revenge. Then explanations started coming, and nothing was simple at all"

The complaints that surfaced during the Ferguson Protest about municipal courts were the same sort of things Cookie Thornton complained about. I didn't know Mr. Thornton, so I can't speak to his mental state, but every person has their breaking point. Mr. Thornton pleaded for help for years including at city council meetings about tickets and felt he was being treated unfairly, but it appears he was ignored. If someone had simply helped him better understand the rules of court, his trial de novo appeal rights, and the right to a jury trial, I wonder if he would have had a better outcome.

In 1996, Thornton had begun receiving citations from Kirkwood for violations of city codes. In June 1998, he pleaded guilty to six violations; and agreed to a five-phase plan to bring his property and his paving business into conformance with city codes within two years.

Thornton filed for bankruptcy in December 1999. During the bankruptcy process, he was put on a plan to get out of debt: he would pay $4,425 a month for five years. But Thornton stopped making the payments within four months and moved the portion of his business that had for a while occupied a rental property in a nearby commercially zoned area, back into his residentially zoned neighborhood.

Thornton never paid any of the fines from the 2001 and 2002 Kirkwood code violation cases. Thornton, despite having no education, training or experience in the practice of law, acted as his own attorney. The City of Kirkwood said in a state court memorandum in 2003, that by May 2002, Thornton had pled or was found guilty of more than 100 of 114 charges.

In 2005, the Missouri Court of Appeals opinion dismissing his suit against Kirkwood and Ken Yost for malicious prosecution and civil rights violations termed his brief "largely incomprehensible". After several years of the lawsuits, he declined an offer from the city to let his fines remain unpaid in exchange for dropping his last lawsuit against the city and no longer disrupting council meetings.

The Meacham Park Neighborhood Association (MPNA) met the afternoon following the shooting, February 8. More than 100 people, including Thornton's mother, and a "procession of ministers" who spoke at the meeting. Many spoke sympathetically of Thornton. Elder Harry Jones of Men and Women of Faith Ministries said

"This is something that took place over time, and perhaps it could have been avoided. There always has been a great divide between Kirkwood and Meacham Park."

Thornton's mother spoke last, saying

"We've got to do things the Bible way. I'm sad that this happened."

A blog entry that same day from a minister who used to live and work in Kirkwood provides some background about the relationship between Meacham Park and Kirkwood:

People who had lived in [Meacham Park] for generations were paid to move out so that Wal Mart could move in. [They] were made promises about how the money the city made from Wal Mart would be given to improve the living conditions in Meacham Park. When I met with the MPNA, there were residents who had been organizing and feeling frustrated for quite a while. They felt that the city officials were not following through on their promises and that the Meacham Park residents made a grave mistake in trusting the city officials….we were able to get our hands on some financial documents that flat out proved that the city promised money that they had not paid but there were legal loopholes that seemed insurmountable without a sea of money to devote to legal fees. When I stepped down from my work with Meacham Park, I knew that the frustrations were far from resolved.

In the end, it's always about the money, isn't it? It looks like the only reason Kirkwood was interested in annexing Meacham Park was to profit from  a Wal-Mart development that certainly came with other developments. They displaced poor black residents from Meacham Park seemingly without any inconvenience to Kirkwood residents.

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