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Federal ruling takes on STL County police use of ‘wanteds’ system instead of warrants

St. Louis County Police car
Paul Sableman
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Flickr

In 2015, the U.S. Department of Justice investigated the Ferguson Police Department after the police shooting death of Michael Brown Jr. and the subsequent protests across the region. The DOJ discovered and criticized the Ferguson police use of a “wanteds” system, which permitted officers to detain and arrest people without obtaining a warrant. Yet that system remains in use by the St. Louis County Police Department, as it has been for more than two decades.

For six years, the “wanteds'' system has been the subject of litigation in which the plaintiffs say their rights under the Fourth Amendment, prohibiting “unreasonable search and seizure,” were violated after they were targeted with a “wanted.” Earlier this month, the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit issued a ruling on that lawsuit, which was first filed in 2016 by the Center for Constitutional Rights and ArchCity Defenders, a civil rights law firm in St. Louis.

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Emily Woodbury
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St. Louis Public Radioo
Maureen Hanlon is the lead attorney for civil rights litigation at ArchCity Defenders.

On Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air, Maureen Hanlon, lead attorney for civil rights litigation at ArchCity Defenders, said that police records collected in the course of the lawsuit showed that St. Louis County police had filed over 15,000 “wanteds” between 2011 and 2016.

“The justification from St. Louis County [Police Department] in court was in large part based around the convenience to its officers for sending out this order to allow people to be picked up and arrested for questioning,” Hanlon added. “What the Eighth Circuit said is, you know, ‘inconvenience’ is no good reason to disregard the requirements of the Fourth Amendment.”

In the ruling, the court panel wrote that while St. Louis County’s use of “wanteds” is “fraught with the risk of violating the Constitution in certain circumstances and/or the danger of evidence being suppressed due to an invalid arrest,” the policy itself is not unconstitutional.

For more on St. Louis County’s “wanteds” program, and the various ways the federal appeals court criticized it — even while upholding its legality — listen to the full conversation with Maureen Hanlon on St. Louis on the Air on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcast, Stitcher, or by clicking the play button below.

Federal ruling takes on St. Louis County use of ‘wanteds’ system instead of warrants

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski and Alex Heuer. Avery Rogers is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Danny Wicentowski is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air."

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