MARIES COUNTY — The ACLU of Missouri filed an appeal with the Missouri Court of Appeals, Southern District, on July 3 in response to a May 24 order of case dismissed against the Maries County …
MARIES COUNTY — The ACLU of Missouri filed an appeal with the Missouri Court of Appeals, Southern District, on July 3 in response to a May 24 order of case dismissed against the Maries County Sheriff’s Office for violating a Sunshine Law request.
Maries County Sheriff Chris Heitman said on July 3 that he believed the case couldn’t be appealed after 30 days. However, Prosecuting Attorney Tony Skouby said the ACLU filed during the 10-day window after the 30-day waiting period.
“The 30 days had expired and I was really hoping the case had been dismissed finally,” Skouby said. “They had 10 days to file an appeal after that and now it will go to the Court of Appeal in Springfield.”
The ACLU filed on June 30, day six of its 10-day window. Skouby said the lawsuit is frivolous and a waste of time.
“I can’t believe what a waste of time this has been,” Skouby said. “Our sheriff, during the COVID period, had to prioritize. Sometimes that meant dealing with having a deputy on the road or this Sunshine Law request. They asked for Facebook posts. They could have gotten that themselves.”
Skouby said the Maries County Sheriff’s Department did the best they could under the circumstances.
“I believe the sheriff did the best he could at the time with what he had to work with,” Skouby continued. “I don’t know how many dispatchers and road deputies they were short. Our (Sunshine Law) law says you have to drop everything and do that first. Our sheriff is the type to put citizens first. It is a shame that the ACLU has prioritized bullying sheriffs they don’t agree with. I would think the ACLU would have a lot better things to do than bug my sheriff.”
The case was dismissed by Maries County Judge John D. Beger’s May 24 because of a technicality.
“I cited a number of cases that said the sheriff’s department is not an entity that should be sued,” Skouby said. “Case law says no, the sheriff’s office cannot be sued. The ACLU says there is new case law that says it can.”
The appeals court will argue the reason for the dismissal before the bones of the case can be heard. Skouby said he is not an appellate court attorney and is unsure what his role will be in the future of the case.
“I work for the county first and then the state,” he explained.
ACLU filed the case in August 2020 against the Maries County Sheriff’s Department and Sheriff Chris Heitman for failing to fulfill a Sunshine Law request in the allotted time period. They requested copies of Facebook posts and comments from Dec. 19, 2019, through August 2020.
“The requests we received were for Facebook posts, messages, and comments, which is an astronomical amount of information, that has taken my staff hours out of their day to photograph that information,” Heitman said after the lawsuit was filed in 2020. “During the time of this request, my staff has investigated shootings, child molestations, and drug overdoses which take priority over copying and pasting Facebook posts and comments that are already accessible to the public.”
The sheriff later reported that his staff accumulated 1,445 pages of screenshots, 64 hours, and over $900 in overtime payroll to complete the request.