Recent Missouri editorials
The Kansas City Star, June 8
Jean Peters Baker declined to charge Greitens, but she did right by the victim
Nearly everyone but Eric Greitens and his legal team of high-dollar protectors applauded the decision to name Jean Peters Baker special prosecutor in the case against the now former governor.
On Friday, the Jackson County prosecutor showed that confidence was well-placed. All victims of sexual assault deserve a prosecutor like Baker by their side.
Both her compassion and her unwavering focus on justice were evident as she announced that she would not file criminal charges against Greitens.
Baker explained the decision at an afternoon press conference. Her office was hamstrung by statutes of limitations and a lack of corroboration. There simply was not enough time or readily available evidence to make the case, let alone to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.
But Baker also delivered an important message that so many women never hear.
She believed the woman at the center of the Greitens case. While she could not prove guilt, Baker said there was probable cause for sexual assault. And Baker said unequivocally that she found the woman credible in her allegations that Greitens had sexually assaulted her and had taken a compromising photograph to use against her if she ever let it be known that she’d had an affair with him.
Baker’s comments were as much an apology to the woman for being unable to proceed with the case as they were a plea to other victims of assault to come forward and an indictment of the way society treats them.
“Justice on behalf of victims must be sought by all of us,” she said.
Baker was visibly frustrated by many factors that hindered her efforts to build a case. She had limited time to investigate. She was astounded to learn that 31,000 files from a cellphone in the case were “gone,” with no chance of retrieving potentially pertinent information.
“Whether or not they were intentionally deleted, I do not know,” Baker said.
Evidence of the photo, allegedly taken after Greitens tied the woman to exercise equipment in his basement, tore her shirt open and pulled down her pants, was never found.
Baker, though, used this moment to speak to others who might be hesitant to report sexual assaults. In her office, they will be treated fairly.
Sexual assault victims should never be expected to endure the humiliating questioning that this woman was subjected to, outrageous attempts to degrade her that Baker highlighted during Friday’s press conference.
“Who did your boobs?”
“Do you have a belly ring?”
“Are your nipples pierced?”
The decision not to pursue charges hinged on whether the case could meet the beyond-a-reasonable-doubt standard, but in the end, this outcome also protects the victim from further emotional harm.
Baker may not feel that she gave the woman justice. But her office accomplished something commendable.
Baker restored the victim’s dignity by giving the woman the respect that she and all other survivors deserve.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 9
Voters should select a new lieutenant governor
As inconsequential as the Missouri lieutenant governor’s job usually is, it should be filled. As John Adams, America’s vice president put it, “I am vice president. In this I am nothing, but I may be everything.”
Gov. Mike Parson knows this first-hand, having ascended to the office June 1 upon the resignation of Gov. Eric Greitens. Parson and the Legislature should address the vacancy as quickly as possible.
Right now legal experts disagree on what, if anything, can be done. Former Missouri Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Wolff and former Missouri House Chief Clerk and Administrator Stephen S. Davis recently have argued on our commentary page that state law prevents governors from appointing lieutenant governors.
Joe Bednar, who was chief counsel to Gov. Mel Carnahan when Carnahan was killed in an October 2000 plane crash, immediately advised Gov. Roger Wilson, who had been lieutenant governor, that he must appoint a successor. Wilson waited three weeks until Election Day and appointed Joe Maxwell, the winner of the lieutenant governor’s race, to take over immediately.
Bednar said the state constitution says “there shall be a lieutenant governor” and the “governor shall fill all vacancies . unless otherwise provided by law.” The law doesn’t otherwise provide.
Davis suggests Parson should provide new instructions to the current special session of the Legislature to deal with the vacancy. The text of Senate Bill 1038, which Sen. Bob Dixon, R-Springfield, introduced after the Greitens scandal erupted last January, could serve as a starting point.
The bill never got out of committee, but it calls for the governor to set an election to fill a lieutenant governor’s vacancy at the next general election, assuming the election date is at least 120 days away. Otherwise the office remains vacant. The Nov. 6 election is 149 days off.
Parson could take Bednar’s advice and appoint someone on his own. No doubt he’d appoint a fellow Republican, and there are lots of qualified candidates. Among them are former Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, who offers 12 years’ experience, and popular leaders like House Speaker Todd Richardson of Poplar Bluff and Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard of Joplin, both of whom are leaving the Legislature because of term limits.
The salary is only $86,600, less than someone could make as a lobbyist, but unless Parson found a caretaker candidate, the new lieutenant governor would immediately become a potential rival for the likes of state Treasurer Eric Schmitt and Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, who might also want to move up.
With the law unclear, a unilateral appointment might be challenged in court. It would cut voters out of the decision-making process. They lost a governor just 17 months into his term. They shouldn’t be denied a chance to elect a new No. 2.
The Springfield News-Leader, June 9
Suicide, drug seizure show need for more oversight of private security
Two weeks ago, an inmate who was being transported across the state fatally shot himself outside the Greene County Jail.
We still don’t have many details.
Dennis Shaner, 50, was being transported from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, to the Taney County Jail for a probation violation related to a 2012 conviction of receiving stolen property.
The transport vehicle stopped to drop off another inmate at the Greene County Jail, and Shaner was allowed out of the vehicle. Somehow, he obtained a gun from inside the vehicle and shot himself in the head, according to officials.
The transport company, Inmate Services Corporation, is paid by Greene County (and many others) to transport inmates.
In a completely unrelated, and far less serious, incident that week, a regional drug task force seized drugs and guns from a private security company based in Springfield.
Court records that led to the seizure suggest the company, Southern Missouri Judicial Services, encouraged employees patrolling private areas to act like police: perform traffic stops, detain people and search for and seize contraband.
SMOJS has previously been paid by the city of Springfield to transport municipal inmates.
One thing we all know is that police work is incredibly difficult. In these two unrelated incidents, we don’t know much else, and that’s a problem.
While citizens may at times be critical of local law enforcement organizations, we mostly trust and appreciate the work of folks within the Springfield Police Department and Greene County Sheriff’s Office. Part of that trust is built through transparency. Taxpayer-funded law enforcement organizations operate with significant public oversight.
Thanks in part to that oversight, those organizations respond with excellent service.
If at any point citizens see local law enforcement cutting corners, providing poor training or abusing their authority, we can demand changes.
Springfield Police Chief Paul Williams, describing how police interact with citizens, once told a reporter that a police force’s purpose is to enforce the law in the way that the people of its community want. It’s a relatively simple idea, but it illustrates the role police and deputies play in our society.
That’s not the relationship we have with private companies, and when we ask them to do the difficult work of policing, we’re putting a lot of faith in an organization without the same level of accountability.
In the case of the transport suicide, is it a case of poor training, bad procedure or just a freak occurrence?
Tim Brenner, owner of SMOJS, talks about the recent raid on his business where drugs were found. Andrew Jansen, News-Leader
Is SMOJS operating outside its legal scope, or is it being unfairly targeted by the local drug task force, as the company’s owner has suggested?
In both cases, it’s hard for us to know.
These kinds of companies have served an important role in our community in that they’ve reduced strain on local forces that are always trying to provide the best service with the tax money they’re allotted.
But if we’re to continue authorizing local agencies to hire private companies to assist with police work, it needs to come with more transparency on the part of those companies.
There’s value in contracting with outside help if it can reduce the burden on local police and taxpayers, but it’s not worth the savings if they can’t guarantee quality service.