If you’ve traveled through Marshfield in recent years and felt like law enforcement was excessively targeting drivers for tickets, the Missouri state Attorney General believes you may have been correct.
AG Eric Schmitt announced a lawsuit Monday against the city of Marshfield for enforcing a ticket quota on police officers and also over what he termed efforts by the police chief to intimidate potential whistleblowers.
However, the lawsuit filed by the state indicates that multiple whistleblowers reported the chief’s actions to the state.
The suit says that Marshfield Police Chief Doug Fannen began in January 2019 posting monthly citation numbers on a department bulletin board but stopped after the city of Diamond, Missouri was sued for illegally putting ticket quotas on officers.
If an officer wrote less than 16 citations in a month, the Chief would call officers into his office to discuss “their performance.”
The AG’s suit makes note of several traffic stop statistics in supporting their claims:
- Citations from officers increase from 383 in 2016 to 1,386 in 2018;
- Warnings from officers fell from 982 to 767 in the same time period;
- The number of Interstate 44 stops in the same time period went from zero to 241.
The suit says the city of Marshfield approved a new “traffic enforcement officer” in the 2019 budget, with the Mayor stating “the City of Marshfield spends a lot on law enforcement. The revenue does not come close to cover the cost of providing law enforcement.”
The AG suit also says when an officer confronted the chief about the ticket quotas, and received “disparate (essentially different) treatment” that lead to their resigning from the department.
The suit claims: “the Chief of Police asked an officer to relay a
message to the resigned officer that if the resigned officer contacted the Attorney General’s Office about the traffic ticket quota scheme, the Chief of Police would pursue a felony charge against the resigned officer on an unrelated issue.“
Schmitt, who championed the law against ticket quotas while in the legislature, said his suit is aimed at being a warning to any city that wants to use tickets as a way to virtually tax citizens.
“With this lawsuit against the City of Marshfield we’re sending a clear message to municipalities across the state: even if you don’t write your traffic quota policy down, we will take action to hold you accountable,” Schmitt said as he announced the suit.
Marshfield Mayor Robert Williams sent a statement to OI Monday night about the suit:
This afternoon the City of Marshfield was made aware of an alleged lawsuit against the City after receiving a copy of a Press Release sent out by Missouri State Attorney General Schmitt’s office.
As of the close of business today at 4:30 pm, the City of Marshfield had not been served with such a lawsuit.
Based upon the Press Release that we have read, the City disputes the allegations stated in the Press Release that the City has instituted traffic ticket quotas or that the Marshfield Police Chief has attempted to intimidate a whistleblower.
As such we feel the allegations are meritless.
The State Attorney General’s Office has alleged in their Press Release that the increase in the City’s traffic ticket revenues over the past few years is evidence of the City having established a traffic ticket quota.
Again, we dispute this claim.
The City’s increase in traffic ticket revenues are easily attributable to the City hiring additional officers in each of the past two year to keep pace with the community’s growth. Additionally, in March 2018 the City provided all our police vehicles with radar guns. Prior to that time only one police vehicle had a radar gun.
Additionally, earlier this year the City hired a dedicated traffic officer so that other police officers could focus their efforts in other areas of need and not solely on traffic enforcement.
The City of Marshfield supports the Attorney General’s efforts to ensure that Senate Bill 5 and other laws of the State of Missouri are being properly followed. However, in this instance, the City of Marshfield has not established any traffic ticket quotas and disputes the allegations provided in the State Attorney General’s Office Press Release.
Here is a copy of the AG’s suit:marshfield-sb5-petition-12-9-19