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Heroin and Foster Care in Jefferson County

4 Mar

A number of recent news articles have appeared recently on the area’s heroin/opioid epidemic and specifically how it impacts the foster care system. Jefferson County in particular is affected by the combination of heroin use and a lack of foster homes. According to a KSDK report, there are 350 children in foster care in the county that can’t be placed with family members, but only 60 foster homes.

A recent Post-Dispatch article, accompanied by a stark front-page photo of two addicts shooting up in their kitchen, provided this chart of local heroin death rates:

heroin-rates

While STL City has far and away the worst problem, Jefferson and Franklin have the next highest rates among area counties.

Another P-D article highlighted the effects of heroin on the foster system in the region:

“We are in desperate need of more foster parents for the first time in a decade and a half,” said Melanie Scheetz, executive director of the Foster and Adoptive Care Coalition of St. Louis. “We need them for both newborns and older children.”

This article states that the number of JeffCo kids in foster care has increased by 20 percent in the past five years, while STL City and County have gone up by about 30 percent.

This graphic, also from the P-D, shows birth rates by county of children with opioid withdrawal symptoms:heroin-births

JeffCo is not in the top ten in the state in this statistic, and our 8.68 per 1,000 rate is lower than what is seen in Franklin, Washington, and St. Francois Counties, but higher than Ste. Genevieve and St. Louis Counties.

Local Response

Judge Darrell Missey, who sees foster care trends firsthand in his courtroom, helped start a group called Fostering Hope, and he is highlighted in this KSDK news report (definitely watch the video). This group helps spread the word about the need for more foster parents and lets churches and other groups know what they can do to help.

missey

Jefferson County Judge Darrell Missey

First Baptist Church in Arnold has started a One Less Orphan ministry. The goals of this program are to recruit, train, and support foster and adoptive parents.

The Jefferson County Foster Children’s Fund helps support foster children and parents by providing events and donations.

House Bills Sponsored by JeffCo Reps

15 Jan

The Missouri legislative session is underway, and with GOP supermajorities in both houses and a GOP governor, we should expect a lot of big items to be passed in the next few months. I’m going to take a look here at what bills our local representatives are pushing. I will look at the activities of the two state senators that cover Jefferson County in a separate post.

Shane Roden, R, 111th district, Cedar Hill –  He has a bill allowing adult motorcycle riders to go helmetless if they have proof of health insurance (motorcycle helmet freedom is a big issue with him) and another bill concerning firefighters and cancer and hazardous duty. On another interesting note, he is cosponsoring a medical marijuana measure. Roden is a paramedic and firefighter.

John McCaherty, R, 97th, High Ridge – He also has a motorcycle helmet law, but it requires everyone under 21 to wear a helmet, while Roden’s bill only requires helmets for those under 18. McCaherty has a bill regarding custody of in vitro human embryos and one about school library media services programs. He is co-sponsoring a bill to add crimes against police to the hate crimes law.

Rob Vescovo, R, 112th, Arnold – He is the most active local rep as it pertains to bill filing, and has several significant bills. One would require public entities to issue bonds via public sale, or competitive bidding. I wrote here about a state auditor’s report that stated that this change would save Missouri taxpayers millions of dollars by forcing the financial companies that work with public entities to get the best deal on bonds.

Another Vescovo bill would prevent political subdivisions from giving preferential treatment to unionized companies in public construction projects (aka project labor agreements, which drive up costs to taxpayers). This bill was introduced last year but did not come to a vote.

Another bill requires written contracts for school superintendents and assistant superintendents, and limits the amount of  severance pay that these officials can receive. This will stop the outrageous payouts to disgraced superintendents like Fox’s Dianne Critchlow.

Vescovo is also co-sponsoring the hate crimes against police bill, and is cosponsoring a bill to modify rules about expert witness testimony at trial (implementing the Daubert standard).

Dan Shaul, R, 113th, Imperial – No bills at this time.

Becky Ruth, R, 114th, Festus – She is trying again this year to create a Waterways Trust Fund to divert money to ports. She also wants to add two new genetics diseases to newborn screening requirements (she has added other diseases in the past) and add a teacher to the State Board of Education. Finally, she has a bill to create a tax deductible First-time Home Buyer Savings Account. Ruth is a former teacher and a current realtor.

Elaine Gannon, R, 115th, DeSoto – She is sponsoring a resolution urging the creation of a Joachim Creek Joint Task Force to battle repeated flooding in DeSoto, and she has a bill making some minor adds to high school equivalency degree testing programs. Gannon is a former teacher.

Ben Harris, D, 118th, Hillsboro – No bills at this time.

Former Arnold Pastor Pleads Guilty to Burglary of Parishioners, and Related Events

8 Aug

A former pastor of a church formerly located in Arnold plead guilty in February and was sentenced to probation in April for breaking into the home of a church member to steal prescription opiods, according to court documents. On top of that, this story takes a number of twists and turns that I will lay out in this post.

skiles

Mug shot from JeffCo Sheriff, via Mobile Patrol app.

The pastor’s name is Tom Skiles, and the church was SOS Church, which was located on JeffCo Boulevard but has since moved out of Arnold. Skiles led the church for 10 years (he got some attention in 2009 for a series of MMA-themed sermons). The relocation of the church in April 2014 to Rockwood Summit High School (RSHS) was prompted by a court judgment against the church after it fell behind by over $23,000 in rent to its landlord, according to court documents. Casenet indicates that this judgment has yet to be paid by Skiles and/or the church.

Several former members of the church are convinced that the reason SOS could not pay its rent is because Skiles stole money from the church for personal use, based on extravagant spending they witnessed. However, these allegations do not appear to have been brought to police.

However, Skiles has violated his probation with separate arrests for DWI and drug possession. The process of revoking his probation is underway in county court.

Timeline of Events

  • March 2014 – Skiles breaks into home of parishioners; relocation of church announced*
  • late March 2014 – SOS Church announces that Skiles is “taking a little break which is well deserved”*
  • April 2014 – Church relocates to RSHS*
  • May 2014 – Burglary harges filed against Skiles in Jefferson County court
  • June 2014 – Lawsuit filed against church for unpaid rent
  • July 2014 – Skiles arrested
  • April 2015 – Judge rules for landlord in lawsuit, orders payment of $24,943
  • October 2015 – New lead pastors announced at SOS – Skiles’ brother and his wife*
  • December 2015 – New name announced for SOS Church – Endurance Church
  • February 2016 – Skiles pleads guilty to break in
  • April 2016 – Skiles sentenced to five years probation
  • July 2016 – Skiles arrested for DWI and marijuana possession in separate events, motion to revoke probation filed

* These events are portrayed on social media as positive happenings; it seems that the true reasoning behind the events was concealed from or downplayed to church members.

Unreported

Now, one would expect “pastor steals from his flock” to be journalistic red meat, sure to merit mention in the papers, but to my knowledge the Leader has not reported on these events, despite being tipped off by former SOS members. This is especially strange given the sometimes mundane crimes the Leader does report on.

It was also stated by the county prosecutor in Skiles’ criminal case that he was picked up by the Festus PD in early 2016 for DWI but was allowed to go home uncharged. Recall that the Festus PD also let the city judge get away with a potential DWI in 2004, as I wrote about here. How common is this in Festus?

Might these examples of special treatment have something to do with the fact that Skiles’ aunt is the wife of JeffCo sheriff Glenn Boyer?

There is a feeling among the former SOS members I talked to that Skiles has gotten away with a lot. We will have to watch his probation revocation proceedings to see if this continues. In addition, the mug shot above was taken after the marijuana arrest on July 1 – no charges have been filed for this incident as of yet.

JeffCo Sheriff Asset Seizures Spike in 2015

23 Jun

Asset forfeiture is an issue that has been in the news lately. This occurs when law enforcement agencies take property from people suspected of a crime. “Suspected” is the key word here because often, no criminal conviction is required. The Washington Post did a big series on this in 2014:

Mandrel Stuart, a 35-year-old African American owner of a small barbecue restaurant in Staunton, Va., was stunned when police took $17,550 from him during a stop in 2012 for a minor traffic infraction on Interstate 66 in Fairfax. He rejected a settlement with the government for half of his money and demanded a jury trial. He eventually got his money back but lost his business because he didn’t have the cash to pay his overhead.

The Institute for Justice gave Missouri a B+ for its asset forfeiture laws, with these reasons:

  • Conviction required, but low bar to connect property to the crime
  • Poor protections for innocent third-party property owners
  • No forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement [this takes away police incentives to take money under questionable justification]

However, if law enforcement agencies cooperate with federal agencies to seize property, they can get around state laws, and they then get to share the seized proceeds with the federal government. The state auditor releases an annual list of property seized under both federal programs and under state law. Jefferson County was ranked quite high in both listings in 2015.

Federal Seizures

According to the auditor’s report, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office (JCSO) ranked 2nd in the state in 2015 in “Total Value of Items Seized and Turned Over to the Federal Forfeiture System,” with a total of $1,760,410. JCSO received $118,696 that year through equitable sharing. For comparison, JeffCo is the 7th largest county in the state by population (counting the city of St. Louis as a county). St. Louis and Kansas City are the only Missouri cities that have more people than JeffCo. Keep in mind, too that the JCSO only covers the unincorporated part of the county. The number one asset seizer in Missouri was the Phelps County Prosecutor’s Office (Rolla is here), which took $2,227,153 and got to keep $119,684. Here are totals from some other entities, for comparison:

  • St. Louis city: $88,786 turned over to feds; $489,271 in received funds
  • St. Louis County: $217,150; $1,226,624
  • Jackson County: $0; $85,480
  • Kansas City: $1,937; $432,422

I’m not sure how these entities brought in so much money while sending little to none to the feds. It may be that some of the receipts came from seizures in 2014, and it just took a long time for payment to be made. The latter three agencies turned over more money to the feds in 2014 than in 2015.

In total, Missouri law enforcement agencies turned $8,438,434 to the feds, meaning that JeffCo made up 21% of the state’s total. In 2014, JeffCo turned over only $9,088, a mere 0.1% of the state’s total. Why the big increase? We don’t have specifics on these cases, so we don’t know how much money was seized from individuals not convicted of any crimes, but it is something the JCSO, which has exhibited a limited respect for the Constitution, should answer for. Are they trying to bring in extra money to get around limits placed by the county council? In 2013, $131,223 was turned over to the feds, and JCSO received $138,608.

Also of note, the city of Arnold’s seizures were $0 in 2015, compared to $1,388,828 turned over to the feds in 2014.

State Seizures

The statue auditor also released a report on asset seizures performed under state law, which as a reminder, requires a criminal conviction. In 2015, Jefferson County reported $232,812 in seizures, ranking 7th in the state, behind Franklin, Jackson, Phelps (which had over $2 million), St. Charles, and St. Louis counties and St. Louis City. JeffCo made up 4% of the state’s $6 million total. Of JeffCo’s total seizures, $46,097 was returned to the property owner.

County prosecutors, who are responsible for reporting this state seizure data to the state auditor, are required to report the following information: date, time, and place of the seizure; property seized; estimated value of the property seized; person(s) from whom the property was seized; criminal charges filed; and disposition of the seizure/forfeiture, and disposition of criminal actions. Like all of the large-seizure entities, JeffCo reporting nearly all of the required data, except for two items – charges filed and disposition of charges. JeffCo reported what charges were filed for only 12 of its 35 seizure cases, and the disposition of charges in only 15 cases. This would suggest that perhaps JeffCo should be returning more money to property owners, if it isn’t filing charges, as state law requires.

Of the $6 million that was seized in under state law, over half was transferred to a federal agency, including over half of the money seized in JeffCo. It is not clear to me why that is done. One would think that if a federal agency was involved that the items would have been seized under the federal rules, not the state rules.

In 2014, JeffCo seized only $69,629 under state law. So in 2015, the JCSO seized a lot more money, through both programs, than in 2014.

Negative Correlation with Meth Busts

One might think that an increase in asset seizures might occur if there was an increase in meth lab busts. But, in fact, those are on the decline. Here are recent meth lab bust numbers for JeffCo:

  • 2013 – 223
  • 2014 – 205
  • 2015 – 127
  • 2016 (Jan – Apr) – 22

What About JCMEG?

In 2013, Jefferson County Municipal Enforcement Group (JCMEG) – a multi-jurisdictional drug task force based in Jefferson County- was one of seven entities that did not file the required reports with the state despite being involved in seizures.

In 2014, Aaron Malin from Show-Me Cannabis tried to find out what was happening with the JCMEG. He submitted a Sunshine request, but did not receive a very helpful response from the organization.

In 2014 and 2015, JCMEG filed the required information, but reported no assets seized and turned over to the federal government. The state seizure reports give one number for the county – it is not broken down between JCSO and JCMEG.

New Sheriff in Town

In November, JeffCo voters will be electing a new sheriff for the first time since 1992, as Glenn Boyer is retiring. One Democrat, current 2nd in command Steve Meinberg, and three Republicans, current JCSO employees Dave Marshak and Ron Arnhart and Madison County Sheriff 2nd in command Sean Cooper, are running to replace him. What do these candidates think about asset forfeiture in cases where no charges have been brought and no conviction won? Perhaps you should ask them if you see them on the campaign trail. And ask the three candidates who currently work in the JCSO what happened in 2015 to make seizures increase so significantly.

Legislature Wrapup

23 May

The Missouri legislative session ended on Friday the 13th. Here is a recap of how our representatives voted on certain measures during the last few weeks of the session. On many measures, all local GOP representatives, or all reps (including the one Democrat) voted the same way on a bill. I generally don’t mention those bills.

Paycheck protection: This was already vetoed by the governor, and it was back for override votes. It failed in the Senate by one vote. Paul Wieland switched from a no the first time around to a yes on the override, and Gary Romine went from absent to voting no. The House votes were the same as the first time, with Becky Ruth, Elaine Gannon, and lone Democrat Ben Harris voting no. Here’s a Missouri Times article on Gannon and Romine and their status as pro-union Republicans.

Medical marijuana: A bill to allow its use only by cancer patients in hospice ultimately failed in the House. It actually passed what is called a perfection vote 91-59, with all JeffCo reps voting yes, except Ruth who was absent. But on the third reading two days later, it failed 66-87. Though many reps flip-flopped, the JeffCo reps stayed with their votes (Ruth was absent again). But a broader medical marijuana initiative is likely to be on the ballot this fall.

Ethanol inventive extension: This bill to extend the subsidy through 2020 passed the House 104-47, but did not get a final vote in the Senate. This is an issue that divides conservatives, and two local GOP Reps, Rob Vescovo and John McCaherty, voted no, while the rest of the JeffCo delegation supported it.

Critchlow law: Vescovo’s bill regarding the use of administrative leave for public employees passed both houses this year after falling short in the Senate last year. It requires a hearing within 60 days of an employee being placed on administrative leave. In the original House vote this year, Ruth, Gannon, and Harris voted no. The Senate amended the bill and passed it unanimously, and on the subsequent House vote all JeffCo reps supported the bill.

Professor Embeds with JeffCo Meth Users

14 Feb

Update: Another article here.

In this New Republic story from December, the professor, Jason Pine, shares some of his insights:

Cooking meth is a kind of apprenticeship. Recipes circulate among cooks like secrets or rumors. Apprenticeships take place in the woods or in the home, sometimes inter-generationally. There are cases when three generations of a single family have cooked and used together.

How they got into it:

Many of the people I met began meth on the job—concrete work, roofing, trucking, factory work. It’s a way to make the job easier, to work longer hours and make more money. Meth increases dopamine levels in the brain, which can cause people to engage in repetitive (and often meaningless) actions—a behavioral effect that syncs up well with ‘work you gotta turn your mind off for,’ as one cook told me.

Ugh:

Some users will administer it to their children—they’ll blow it into their mouths if they’re smoking it.

How did he gain access to meth cooks?

I worked with cultural “ambassadors” who could communicate to users that I wasn’t out to get them. One bartender was particularly helpful. In a small community, you get connected to people easily.

This 2007 article by Pine goes into some more detail, if you are interested. We hear so much about arrests and lab busts around here, but we don’t really hear much about the actual practice of meth use.

JeffCo Mom Convicted for Hitting Heroin Dealer

2 May

In a case that came up in the race for sheriff last year, Imperial mom Sherrie Gavan was convicted last week of 3rd-degree misdemeanor assault for hitting her addicted son’s alleged heroin dealer with a baseball bat. She faces up to a year in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000, and will be sentenced June 4th.

It’s really hard for me to see the sense in the prosecution or conviction here (and online commenters at the Post-Dispatch and, to a lesser extent, RFT agree). Sure, hitting someone is against the law. But these details hardly cry out to me for justice:

[Gavan] said Loyd [the dealer/”facilitator”] and another man came into the restaurant, and Klaeton told his mother that Loyd was his drug “facilitator.”

Loyd and the other man left, and Sherrie Gavan followed them in her Jeep. Eventually both parked at Loyd’s residence in Imperial, where a confrontation took place.

What began as a heated discussion, with Gavan warning Loyd to stay away from her son, escalated and she struck Loyd with a bat she took from her vehicle.

She said she struck him because she feared Loyd was about to attack her.

Goldstein said Gavan, at 4-foot-11, hardly intimidated Loyd, who Goldstein described as 5-foot-9, 195 pounds.

“She was scared, terrified,” Goldstein said. “He (Loyd) said he was never afraid of her. He said he was never hurt.”

Loyd waited three hours to contact police after being struck on his left forearm. Also, he declined to be taken for medical treatment when police asked if he needed it, Goldstein asserted.

Are Jefferson County prosecutors bored? A very small woman tapped a much bigger man on the arm, and he’s some sort of victim? The prosecutors are making “the law is the law” and “go through proper channels” arguments:

[Prosecutor Jacob] Costello said the jury needed to remember that Gavan took matters into her own hands instead of going through the authorities.

“She made the choice to pull out the baseball bat,” Costello said.

This is reminiscent of the JeffCo sheriff’s comments in March of last year:

Jefferson County Sheriff Oliver “Glenn” Boyer said his office was compelled to turn the case over to the prosecuting attorney.

“How can we as law enforcement turn our backs on someone who has been assaulted?” he said. “I understand her intentions, but we have laws.”

Indeed, we need justice for this poor, poor man.

Gavan has no regrets, even though she declined a plea bargain:

Throughout the trial, Gavan said she fought the charges rather than plead guilty to help shine a spotlight on the problem of heroin.

“I thought it was important to get the story out,” she said.

And despite the conviction, she said, she achieved what she wanted by confronting Loyd. Loyd has not contacted her son since, and Clayton has been clean for more than a year.

“My son is alive,” she said. “That’s all that matters. … I will take my life over his any day.”

I’m a little bit surprised the jury came back with this verdict, and in only two hours. A few factors, I’m sure, were in play. First, deliberations started at 6 pm after a two-day trial, so people probably wanted to go home; second, the jury was swayed by the “law is the law” argument; and third, nobody on the panel had the passion to argue for a nullification. Such a move, while possible, of course never comes up during a trial, and it would require someone (more likely at least a couple of people) who felt strongly about this idea to argue for an acquittal. Even if a person or two felt this way, most people are unlikely to mount a protracted 12 Angry Men-style campaign against a majority of the jury over a misdemeanor charge. Easier to vote guilty and assume (hope?) the judge goes easy at sentencing.

I just hope that Gavan’s son doesn’t fall off the wagon (he’s been clean for 14 months) while Gavan sits in a jail cell. If he does, and then commits a crime to pay for drugs, will this have all been worth it to stamp out a very minor case of vigilantism?

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