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New Missouri Law Will Ban Police Chokeholds, Let Prosecutors Challenge Wrongful Convictions

A Kansas City police officer listens to a police commission hearing in 2020 at KCPD headquarters.
Carlos Moreno
A Kansas City police officer listens to a police commission hearing in 2020 at KCPD headquarters.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson has signed into law a wide-ranging bill that, among other things, limits when and how police can use chokeholds, cancels a requirement that Kansas City police live within city limits, and gives prosecutors the ability to challenge wrongful convictions in the court that handed them down.

The bill, SB 53, received broad bipartisan support in both chambers of the General Assembly, and has been awaiting the governor’s signature since May.

“It combined both just pure, I guess, pro-police provisions in it, but also had some police reforms that I think were common sense and were actually supported by all the law enforcement community,” said Republican state Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer, who sponsored the bill. “That was very heartening to see that level of bipartisanship.”

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas and others have criticized the legislature’s attempts to rescind Kansas City Police Department’s residency requirement. Lucas has said it’s important that police live in the communities they serve.

“This legislation instead turns a blind eye to the interest of Kansas Citians,” he told KMBC News when the General Assembly passed the bill. “It drives a wedge between our community and our police at a time when we have new challenges seemingly every week."

Luetkemeyer, who represents Buchanan and Platte counties, noted that Kansas City's police department is one of the few in the state with such a rule, and said employees there should have the freedom to live and send their kids to school wherever they choose.

Wide-ranging impact

Among the more than 40 provisions included in the bill are measures that make it a crime for law enforcement officers to engage in sexual conduct with a detainee or prisoner, that require law enforcement agencies to collect and report local data on use-of-force incidents beginning in March 2022, and that improve background checks on police officers.

The measures are intended to answer long-standing criticism that some police officers who are forced out of a job because of misconduct can be easily hired by another department in the state.

Also included in the bill are provisions that would:

  • increase the penalty for posting personally-identifying information online about first responders and law enforcement officials, a practice known as “doxxing”;
  • require jails and prisons to provide feminine hygiene products at no cost to people in custody;
  • push counties to implement a Missouri law that keeps 17-year-olds in juvenile courts and detention facilities, rather than adult ones;
  • use prisoners’ federal CARES Act stimulus money to pay restitution costs they may owe;
  • allow for quicker expungement of unlawful use of weapons convictions, and restore any rights that were restricted as a consequence of that person's criminal record, including the right to bear arms.

The new law will also give prosecutors and circuit attorneys in the state the ability to challenge wrongful convictions in the court that handed them down. It’s a maneuver that prosecutors in Missouri have been unable to use since 1988.

Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker played a part in writing that provision.

“We did it the way one should — they say in ways that can't be done anymore — that opposing people get together and have negotiations, but that's what we did,” Baker told KCUR in June.

The change will give her office the ability to contest the conviction of Kevin Strickland, a Kansas City man imprisoned for more than 42 years for a crime Baker now says he didn’t commit.

It’s a move Baker said she plans to make at 9 a.m. on Aug. 28 — as soon as the law goes into effect.

A similar case in St. Louis could be affected as well. Lamar Johnson has been imprisoned for about 26 years following a 1995 murder conviction.

St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner has said that former prosecutors and police fabricated evidence to secure his murder conviction in 1995.

Copyright 2021 KCUR 89.3. To see more, visit KCUR 89.3.

Luke X. Martin is an assistant producer for KCUR's Up To Date.

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