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St. Louis judge orders civilian oversight of city jails to continue, but not of police work

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Courtesy of the St. Louis Mayor’s Office
St. Louis Alderwoman Shameem Clark Hubbard speaks at city hall on Aug. 2, 2022, after Mayor Tishaura Jones signed a bill that changes the way the city investigates allegations of police misconduct.

A St. Louis judge issued an order Tuesday walking back part of his decision to block a city ordinance that expanded civilian oversight of local law enforcement.

In September, three police organizations were successful in convincing St. Louis Circuit Judge Jason Sengheiser to issue a preliminary injunction ordering the city to stop implementing its new Division of Civilian Oversight — a civilian-led independent agency that would take over all internal police investigations that have to do with misconduct and use of force.

The city pushed back in motion two weeks later, saying that the injunction will have “serious consequences” that the court didn’t intend. A portion of the ordinance pertains to civilian oversight of incidents that occur in local city jails.

Sengheiser’s Tuesday order allows the newly-formed Detention Facilities Oversight Board to continue to operate. It’s a nine-member volunteer board of city residents who review complaints of alleged misconduct in the jails. The board has the power to issue subpoenas to witnesses or production of documents, as well as be granted access to city detention facilities upon request.

The judge’s order states that the Division of Corrections may hire and train civilian oversight staff “to investigate and support investigations of corrections professional misconduct and detention incidents in a detention facility.”

A spokesperson for the Mayor Tishaura Jones said in a statement, “The City took the affirmative step to seek this modification, then negotiated a consent order with the plaintiffs. We are pleased the Detention Facilities Oversight Board may resume its important work.”

The portion of the city law that pertains to civilian oversight of police is still blocked under the preliminary injunction, the judge ordered.

In his initial order for the injunction, Sengheiser said the city ordinance potentially could violate a state law passed last year establishing a “Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights,” which bolstered protections for officers under investigation for misconduct.

In December, the City of St. Louis filed a lawsuit in an attempt to get that state law struck down. The case is still pending.

This story was originally published by the Missouri Independent, part of States Newsroom, a network of news outlets supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Missouri Independent maintains editorial independence.

Rebecca Rivas covers civil rights, criminal justice and immigration for the Missouri Independent

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