ACLU Sunshine Law case against sheriff scheduled for February

By Roxie Murphy, Staff Writer
Posted 1/27/21

A Missouri ACLU court case against Maries County Sheriff Chris Heitman for allegedly violating Missouri Sunshine Law in August 2020 was scheduled Jan. 22 to move forward for a hearing.

The case …

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ACLU Sunshine Law case against sheriff scheduled for February

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A Missouri ACLU court case against Maries County Sheriff Chris Heitman for allegedly violating Missouri Sunshine Law in August 2020 was scheduled Jan. 22 to move forward for a hearing.

The case stems from a July 2020 request from the ACLU to the sheriff’s department for 10 months worth of public screenshots of The Office of Maries County Sheriff Chris Heitman Facebook posts.

Both Heitman and the ACLU acknowledged that Heitman had at first immediately responded to their request and told them he thought it would take his office about a week to deliver. According to paperwork later served to the sheriff’s office, Heitman was three weeks late in the delivery of the request, and the ACLU had paid $150 for the documents.

Heitman said at the time that the delay was unintentional, noting, “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. 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.”

Maries County Prosecuting Attorney Anthony “Tony” Skouby requested that the case be dismissed on a technicality.

“We requested a motion to continue our motion for dismissal today (Jan. 22),” Heitman said.

Skouby was arguing in court that the ACLU attorneys didn’t properly serve Heitman with their Sunshine Law request.

“I did accept the process and server on the case today,” Heitman said last Friday. “Legally the coroner is the only one that has the authority to take any action against the sheriff, however, I still accepted their paperwork without having to require the coroner to serve me.” 

Heitman had his staff work to complete the request after the paperwork was served, costing the county about $900 in overtime. However, the ACLU did not drop their case, that stems from a Facebook post on the sheriff’s page, following the death of George Floyd. The ACLU maintains that the posts were “threatening social media posts” and “implying that citizens of the county were armed and would be deputized in response to what they claimed to be lawless protesters.”

“I think everyone knows it was politically motivated, it is blatantly obvious,” Heitman said about the case.

At the beginning of the case filing, ACLU Missouri’s legal director Tony Rothert said they would, “hold the sheriff’s office accountable for its resolute refusal to follow the law” and “look forward to reviewing the records and discovering what it is that the sheriff’s office is trying to hide.”

Heitman said his Facebook posts had nothing to do with racism, and his office had responded to all requests, albeit were late in delivery.

“Saying “all lives matter” in a post is not a racial slur at all,” Heitman said about his past post. “I still stand by my post and the actions of my office and we did everything that we could and I am certain the judge will dismiss.”

The case is set to be heard in February by Judge John Bieger of the Maries County 25th Circuit Court.

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