FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: CONTACT: Dave Roland
August 1, 2012 (314) 604-6621
VICTORY: Trial Judge Acquits Ron Paul Supporter of Bogus Criminal Trespass Charges
St. Louis, Missouri—Last night Judge Donald Kohl did not even need to hear witnesses testify in favor of Brent Stafford before ruling him not guilty of the criminal trespassing charges with which the City of St. Peters had charged him. Stafford, a supporter of Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul, had been arrested on March 17, 2012, because he was speaking to a peaceful crowd of several dozen people on the grounds of Francis Howell North High School in the wake of the aborted St. Charles County Republican Caucus.
“The purpose of a caucus is to draw together an area’s party members so they can express their ideas about policy matters and candidates for office, with the ultimate goal being the selection of delegates who will represent the caucus at a convention,” Stafford said. “The people who attend a caucus choose their own officers and decide for themselves how the caucus will apportion delegates to the convention. Those who organize the caucus do not get to dictate its outcome.”
The St. Charles County Republican Caucus was scheduled to award more delegates to the Republican state convention than any other Missouri caucus, and event organizers Eugene Dokes and Bryan Spencer – both of whom supported Rick Santorum’s presidential campaign – were concerned that Ron Paul supporters would comprise a majority of the caucus and would claim all of the county’s delegates for Paul. As a result, Dokes and Spencer planned in advance to appoint their own choice of caucus chairman without allowing the assembly the option of voting for Stafford, who was the consensus choice for chairman among supporters of both Ron Paul and Mitt Romney; they also intended to limit Santorum’s losses at the caucus by preventing the assembly from assigning delegates on a “winner-takes-all” basis. Dokes hired police officers to provide security for the event and, according to St. Peters Police Sergeant Tim Hickey, instructed them to expect trouble from Ron Paul supporters. When the caucus attendees loudly protested the caucus organizers’ many violations of parliamentary procedure, the organizers adjourned the caucus, announced that the county would send no delegates to the state convention, and ordered everyone to leave the building.
With the assistance of the president of the Missouri Association of Parliamentarians, Stafford quickly began to follow the procedures necessary to reconvene the improperly-adjourned caucus. He stood on a chair on the grounds of Francis Howell North High School and began to instruct those in the area about how the caucus could be salvaged, but within minutes St. Peters police officers swept in, arrested Stafford, and told the rest of the crowd to go home. Although hundreds of other people remained on the school grounds at that time, Stafford was the only one charged with trespassing. The Freedom Center of Missouri recognized that this was a gross violation of Stafford’s First Amendment freedoms of speech and peaceable assembly and immediately took his case.
“The only ‘crime’ Brent Stafford committed that day was knowing the rules of parliamentary procedure better than the caucus organizers and insisting on following those rules even when the organizers wanted to pack up their toys and go home,” stated Dave Roland, Stafford’s attorney and the Freedom Center’s director of litigation. “He never should have been arrested.”
In the months following Stafford’s arrest, Eugene Dokes had several opportunities to ask the City of St. Peters to drop the charges against Stafford, but he refused to do so. As a result, the City proceeded with its prosecution, calling six witnesses to testify against Stafford during a two-day trial. When the prosecution finally rested its case, Roland stated that he was prepared to offer witnesses in Stafford’s defense, but asked the judge for an immediate determination that the City had failed to prove that Stafford had done anything wrong. The judge agreed, finding Stafford not guilty of the charges leveled against him.
“I’m thrilled to have been acquitted,” Stafford said, “but no one should ever have to face criminal prosecution simply because they were exercising their constitutional rights.”
Now that the criminal charges against Stafford have been cleared, he is weighing the possibility of filing a separate lawsuit against the City for violating his freedom of speech and freedom to peacefully assemble with other citizens on property open to the public.
Founded in November 2010 and headquartered in St. Louis, the Freedom Center of Missouri is a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to research, litigation, and education in defense of individual liberty and constitutionally limited government. The Freedom Center is one of Missouri’s leading legal advocates for the constitutional protection of liberties secured by the First Amendment. Additional information about the Freedom Center’s mission, cases, and activities can be found online at www.mofreedom.org. The Freedom Center is supported entirely by donations from people who believe in its mission – the organization never asks its clients to pay for the legal services it provides. If you would like to join in supporting the Freedom Center’s work, please make a donation online or mail a check to:
Freedom Center of Missouri
P.O. Box 300464
St. Louis, Missouri 63130
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[NOTE: To arrange interviews on this subject, journalists may call Dave Roland at (314) 604-6621.]