Three Looming Questions in St. Peters

Three Looming Questions in St. Peters

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.

14 thoughts on “Three Looming Questions in St. Peters

  1. Keep fighting the good fight! I am not one who is “sue happy”, but I would encourage Mr. Stafford to consider a civil suit in this case. My hope and prayers are that justice will be served and that Mr. Stafford’s name will be officially cleared of all wrongdoing. I am proud to support the Freedom Center of Missouri and consider it and honor and a blessing to be able to do so. I encourage everyone with the means to do so to get set up for a monthly donation because the work your organization does for liberty is absolutly invalueable.

  2. I donated to the cause, how much have you raised so far? I look forward to hearing how things turn out. Thanks for all you are doing.

  3. This is not about liberty.

    This is about people who rioted and did not obey lawful police orders. They did not obey the house rules at the caucus start, they could have changed them under Roberts Rules of Order since they apparently had the majority vote. Instead they brought down the good Ron Paul people and their cause.

    After the caucus rioted, the officers called for help from every available police department. I personally witnessed the accused people inciting the crowd to not obey the police. Their actions almost were like occupy people in New York.

    The talk about justice is a smoke screen to cover up the small extreme element in the Ron Paul movement.

  4. Frieda,

    Whatever happened inside the gymnasium is completely irrelevant. No one – not even the police – have suggested that Brent Stafford was arrested for anything that happened inside the gymnasium. In fact, the gentleman who was arrested inside the gymnasium for violating the anti-recording rule called and asked us to take his case, but we declined to do so because regardless of what we think about the anti-recording rule the St. Charles County Republican Central Committee may well have had the right to order him out of the gymnasium.

    Brent Stafford’s situation was dramatically different. Those who had reserved the gymnasium instructed everyone to exit the building or face arrest for trespassing. Brent Stafford complied with that instruction – he left the building. Once he left the building, he was on public property where school policy allowed any member of the public to be. Even more, he was speaking to a group of people who, as the video above quite clearly shows, were NOT “rioting.” To the contrary, they were quiet and orderly as they listened to what Mr. Stafford had to say.

    If Mr. Stafford was trespassing, then every single one of the HUNDREDS of other people standing outside of that school building were also trespassing. But Mr. Stafford was the only one arrested. The fact of the matter is that Stafford was arrested not because he was doing anything wrong, but because of who he was and what he was saying. The First Amendment does not tolerate citizens being arrested simply because they are speaking, and the Fourteenth Amendment does not allow someone to order the police to selectively arrest political rivals out of a crowd of alleged “lawbreakers.” That is why the Freedom Center is fighting this case.

  5. Dave,

    I witnessed a person standing on a chair (probably Stafford) urging people to stay. He was not obeying lawful police orders. That is cause for arrest.

    Your statement that what happened inside is is irrelevant whitewash. A very few bad apples were inciting the crowd inside. Some rushed the podium. That is a riot. The police called for reinforcements to control the situation.

    Several old people were almost trampled by the unruly part of the crowd. Shame.

    It is a shame that the normal Ron Paul people are adversely affected by the very few who act like “occupy” people. The situation could have been handled by usual rules of order, sine the Paul people
    apparently had a majority.

    Over heated juvenile behavior is not the answer to any conflict.

    Frieda

    1. Frieda,

      Two major points:

      1) Brent Stafford is not responsible for anyone else’s actions. The videos from inside the gymnasium – and there are a LOT of them, shot from many different angles – show that HE was not doing anything wrong. Beyond that, if the police felt that someone needed to be arrested for the way they were acting inside the gymnasium, the police could have done so. But they did not. That is critically important, too, because it puts the lie to any suggestion that the police were trying to protect people. Rather than arresting anyone who was acting improperly, they “just happened” to wait until tempers had cooled before targeting the primary political rival of those who organized the caucus, arresting him as he was speaking to a peaceful crowd. Part of the reason we HAVE a First Amendment is to prevent influential people from ordering their political rivals arrested simply because they are speaking to peaceful crowds.

      2) It is indisputable that those in charge of the caucus ordered people to exit the building, but the video clearly shows that no one – NO one – was telling people to leave the school grounds outside of the gymnasium until several minutes after Mr. Stafford was arrested. That was public property on which, according to school district policy, ANY citizen had a right to be. As such, I totally disagree that the police had any legitimate authority to order anyone to leave, absent some clear and present danger to the public health or safety, which the video shows simply did not exist. More importantly for Stafford’s case, the law is abundantly clear that police cannot arrest someone for trespassing without first giving them an opportunity to leave the property, and the video shows that Stafford was given no such opportunity.

  6. Stafford was inciting to riot. End of conversation.

    Ron Paul has some good ideas, but some of his followers are way out of reality.

    These few bring shame on his efforts. Too bad, he has some good points.

    1. Although I have watched many hours of video related to this event, I have not yet seen anything to suggest that Mr. Stafford was inciting people to riot. Additionally, no one associated with the St. Charles County Republican Central Committee or the St. Peters Police Department has suggested that Mr. Stafford was inciting people to riot. You seem to be alone in your opinion, although in and of itself that does not mean you are incorrect. I will be happy to carry on this dialogue if you can point out the part of the above video – or the part of ANY of the many videos of the caucus – that you believe to show Mr. Stafford inciting people to riot… but I trust that if such evidence existed the St. Peters Police Department would have long ago seized on it and attempted to use it. Because those prosecuting Mr. Stafford have never made such allegations or produced such evidence, I will have no reason to think that your opinion in this regard is correct unless you can show some justification for it.

      I can’t make you change your mind on this point, I know. You will believe what you will believe, whether or not you have any proof. But unless you can show some evidence to support your position, I really do think that we have reached the “end of conversation.” In the meantime, I ask you to keep in mind that this case weighs not only one man’s liberty in the balance – the outcome will have a bearing on all of us. If Mr. Stafford can be convicted of a criminal offense for speaking to a peaceful assembly on property open to the public – and ESPECIALLY if his arrest was ordered by his political rivals – that has severe repercussions for everyone who might disagree with those holding political authority. If a person stands on one of the benches in front of the White House and starts speaking to a peaceful crowd about how they can vote the President out of office, do you really believe that the President can lawfully single out that person for arrest? If you are in a public park in your hometown and you start speaking to a peaceful crowd about your dissatisfaction with the city council, can they lawfully single you out for arrest? Were the colonial governors appointed by King George acting lawfully when they suspended the assemblies called by patriots in the lead-up to the Revolution and ordered the arrest of those speaking to peaceful crowds about the injustice and tyranny being perpetrated by the British government? We created the First Amendment to ensure that people can gather and peacefully express their grievances without the fear of arrest or criminal prosecution, and we MUST fight to ensure that the First Amendment retains its vitality.

      1. I tell you what I observed.

        If officers tell you to disperse and you stand up on an chair and ask people to stay, that is disregarding lawful police orders. I do not need nonrelevant flack about the British government –that is a distraction from the facts of this situation.

        The police determined the mob was rioting. Police do not take orders from caucus leaders.

        Liberty cuts two ways, free speech ends when others rights are trampled on. I observed old people being shoved about by the overheated small faction of the crowd. -rushing of a podium is mob action. I do not care how many videos you observed. They can be edited to show a particular point of view.

        Stick with the facts and do not make apologies for the small faction of Ron Paul m robots what were over acting.

        1. If a police officer asks you to touch his private parts are you disregarding lawful police orders? The police had no right to ask that anyone leave the caucus. Everyone there was invited, registered voters, who were only “TRESPASSING” upon Dokes orders that he decided they were trespassing. The event, according to robertson rules, was NOT OVER. The body never voted to end the caucus, which is why the GOP allowed a second caucus that was NOT RUN BY DOKES and whereby the body STILL VOTED FOR BRENT STAFFORD as Chair. It is obvious you have no clarity about the law, what is LAWFUL, or what the ROBERTSON RULES OF ORDER are. When you have your facts straight, then you can comment. It wasn’t the POLICE that asked people to leave, it was DOKES that gave the order and told the police it was his event and that if he ordered people to leave and they didn’t he would request that they be removed for trespassing. The police did not even tell Brent Stafford WHY he was being arrested, they said “we will tell you later” and threw him in the paddy wagon. NO ONE at the event was being VIOLENT. Not one person was injured, threatened, or harmed in any way by the RON PAUL people. The chair just refused to acknowledge any of them as if they didn’t exist and their voices grew in response to that. I was in the gym as well. I saw what was going on, the difference between you and everyone else is that everyone else obviously has some knowledge about how the caucus is supposed to be run and what their rights are. You don’t ALWAYS have to do what the police tell you to do. WE HAVE RIGHTS, and people are tired of having our rights trampled on just because we don’t agree with their agenda.

  7. Brent Stafford is being ill served by some Ron Paul people. I heard they showed up at the trial with stolen Dokes signs with an “x” through the name. Do they not know that stealing signs is a misdemeanor?
    How would they get Dokes sign to show at the trial today ? -either by stealing or dealing in stolen merchandise. Shame. They are ruining the good Ron Paul people’s reputation.

    I witnessed several Dokes sign in my neighborhood last week — and Sunday they were gone . The Ron Paul affiliated candidate signs which were near the Dokes signs were untouched. It may be that some juvenile Ron Paul people are doing this.

    I hope the good Ron Paul people talk to these stealing people and put some sense in their heads.
    We will be ill served by such thieves in our government or committees.

  8. I heard the testimony in todays trial showed that the police shut down the caucus.
    If that is true, then the Ron Paul people that are spreading the misinformation that the Republicans and/or dokes shut down the caucus.

    What is up??????

    1. There has been no testimony yet about who shut down the caucus. In the police report of the incident, they were adamant that the decision to adjourn the caucus was made by Eugene Dokes, Bryan Spencer, and/or Matt Ehlen. Specifically, the report stated: “It was not the St. Peters Police Department’s decision to end the Caucus, nor did the St. Peters Police Department stop or end, or tell anyone to stop or end the Caucus.”

      The testimony today had to do with who ordered people to be arrested for trespassing. Bryan Spencer said that the police instructed him to announce that people must leave or be arrested, and a police officer essentially said that after the caucus adjourned no one ordered him to arrest anyone, but he chose to do so of his own initiative. His testimony is not the end of the matter – the prosecution has indicated that it may call as many as six or seven more witnesses – but if this police officer’s recounting of the matter is correct the government will almost certainly lose its case. Where “trespassing” is concerned, the police cannot decide for you who is or is not allowed to be on property you control.

      Think of it this way… Imagine you are hosting a large friendly gathering at your home when two of your friends get in a squabble and the police show up. Although the police can arrest people who are committing some crime or endangering the public health or safety, they cannot tell you to send everyone away by threatening them with arrest for trespassing. You have to decide for yourself that you are revoking your friends’ right to be on your property. And if you DO decide that you are revoking that right, you have to be clear enough about your intentions that your friends know what, precisely, is required of them. Otherwise they did not “knowingly” remain someplace they were not supposed to be (which is a specific requirement of the ordinance against trespassing.)

      And, of course, there’s an additional complication – the question of who actually controlled the property. If an individual person controls property and that person says someone else has to leave, that’s all there is to it. But it appears that the property at Francis Howell North High School was being reserved by the St. Charles County Republican Central Committee, not by any individual person – and Brent Stafford is a duly elected member of the St. Charles County Republican Central Committee. The City must prove that *someone* (Dokes? Spencer? Ehlen?) had the right to exclude even members of the very organization in whose name the property was being used. If no one steps forward to say “Yes, I had this authority and I specifically ordered other members of the Central Committee off the property,” the City cannot make its case.

      So that’s the Catch-22 for those who oversaw the caucus. If the City is going to make it’s case, one of them has to step up and not just claim that they intended for Brent Stafford to leave the property, they also have to *prove* that they had the authority to force other members of the Central Committee to leave even though the Committee itself controlled the property. And if none of those three are willing to claim that responsibility, the darker question emerges… why did they insist on pressing charges? They had several opportunities to drop the charges, but they instead chose to cooperate with the prosecution in trying to have Brent Stafford convicted, even though he was simply trying to follow the rules of the caucus, and even after it was clear that those in charge of the caucus had completely FAILED to follow the rules of the caucus. The wise and honorable thing would have been for those in charge of the first caucus to simply admit that Stafford’s arrest was a mistake, but they did not choose that path.

      1. A riot is an uncontrolled mass of people –just as happened with some of the Ronm Paul supporters.
        You are trying to window dress a riot .
        I hope that the cooler heads of the Ron Paul group prevail and stop this childish sign stealing and rioting.

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