Lessons in using very precise language when dealing with government officials and sunshine laws, via the Show-MeCannabis web site out of St. Louis, Missouri.
The story, as related by Aaron Malin:
The Missouri State Highway Patrol (MSHP) published a map and listing of the different drug task forces on their website. One of them is listed as the 'St. Louis Metro DTF' (law enforcement uses 'DTF' regularly in emails and official documents….).
I was interested in the activities of this task force, so I filed a Sunshine Law Request with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department (SLMPD).
Police attorney Mark Lawson denied in a series of emails, reproduced at the link, that any such organization existed; inquiring as to whether they meant a St. Louis County drug task force? Malin knew of that separate group and had already gotten info from them.
In a later round of emails, Lawson "claimed he'd 'brought this up to the Chief of Police' and that the Chief 'doesn't know what the Missouri Highway Patrol could be referencing.' "
Malin found references in documents from the Missouri Department of Public Safety showing that that self-same chief of police was responsible for and spent hundreds of thousands in grant money in the name of what one might call a specialized drug task force. And:
guess who is listed on the very first page of the 2012 Grant Details Report as the "authorized official" legally responsible for accepting over $200k/year in funding for the task force? That's right- its Mr. Mark Lawson, the SLMPD lawyer with whom I'd been communicating all along.
But it seems the official name was not what the Highway Patrol website listed, but rather (with an office number the same as that listed for the so-called "St. Louis Metro DTF") was the "Metro Multi-jurisdictional Undercover Drug Program." Upon writing Lawson to explain that he knew this name for the program now, in late April, Malin stopped hearing back from Lawson at all.
As Malin sums up these technical shenanigans:
The lengths to which the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department was willing to go to avoid providing public records is troubling. Drug Task Forces in Missouri are entrusted with more power and are subject to less accountability than would be expected of typical law enforcement, which further underscores the need for transparency. The shenanigans of the SLMPD demonstrated here fly in the face of the spirit, if not the letter, of Missouri's Sunshine Law. More than that, it is an affront to good governance that major police departments default to denying the existence of a drug task force when records pertaining to it are requested.