One week from today Brent Stafford will go to trial in the St. Peters Municipal Court, facing charges of criminal trespassing stemming from his arrest in the wake of the St. Charles County Republican Caucus on March 17, 2012.
Several things about this case are perfectly clear. First, it is clear that those committee members who were in charge of handling the caucus had made plans in advance to try and disregard the will of caucus attendees, which led to violations of both the state Republican party’s rules and the rules of parliamentary procedure applicable to caucuses. Second, it is clear that Mr. Stafford, with the assistance of the president of the Missouri Association of Parliamentarians, was properly attempting to follow those rules to reconvene the caucus. Third, it is clear that the scores of people gathered to hear what Mr. Stafford had to say were orderly and peaceful while he was addressing them. And fourth, several police officers arrested Mr. Stafford and hauled him to jail without telling him why he was being arrested or giving him an opportunity to cease any allegedly unlawful behavior.
Thanks to several of Mr. Stafford’s friends, the Freedom Center of Missouri learned about his arrest almost immediately and since that time has steadily worked in his defense. (We are providing our services at no charge to Mr. Stafford – your donation would be extremely helpful in defraying the Freedom Center’s expenses.) These criminal charges against Mr. Stafford are completely absurd and we have no reason to believe that the city of St. Peters will be able to make its case – although there is always some level of risk when a citizen faces a trial. But Missourians – and particularly those living in St. Charles County – should be asking themselves at least three major questions about this situation:
(1) Who ordered the police to arrest Brent Stafford when all he was doing was talking to a peaceful crowd assembled on public property?
(2) If the police were so concerned with “trespassing,” why didn’t they simply ask Mr. Stafford to leave the grounds and why didn’t they arrest any of the other people standing around in the same area?
(3) Once it was clear that the St. Charles County Republican Caucus had not been properly adjourned, that Brent Stafford was following the rules by trying to reconvene the caucus, and that absolutely no one had been harmed in any way by Stafford’s actions (in fact, Stafford was elected as the chairman at the second St. Charles County Republican Caucus), why have St. Peters and the St. Charles County Republican Central Committee insisted on pursuing the criminal charges against Stafford?
Whether the decision to arrest Stafford came from his political rivals on the St. Charles County Republican Central Committee, or whether it came from within the St. Peters Police Department, citizens ought to know who thought it appropriate to selectively arrest one of their fellow citizens simply because they were speaking to a peaceful assembly. Citizens ought to know who thought it appropriate to carry a man off to jail for “trespassing” rather than just asking him to leave the property. And citizens ought to know why the City of St. Peters and the St. Charles County Republican Central Committee have insisted on seeing Stafford subjected to criminal prosecution even though no one was injured by his actions and he was later shown to have been correct about the proper conduct of the caucus. We intend to get answers to these questions at the trial next Tuesday morning, and we hope that when those answers are made available that the citizens of St. Charles County will hold those persons responsible to account for their gross violation of Mr. Stafford’s First Amendment rights.