In the weeks leading up to today's showdown at the capitol over controversial gun legislation that would block federal laws in Missouri, we've chronicled the growing opposition from law enforcement agencies across the state. St. Louis city and county cops say House Bill 436 will damage their police work, Attorney General Chris Koster says it will give a leg up to drug dealers and even the Missouri Sheriffs' Association has criticized the bill, saying it violates the oath of office.
Today, before the veto session begins at noon, we have for you some strongly worded criticisms from the United States Attorney's Office, Eastern District of Missouri, which yesterday announced 25 federal indictments related to firearm and weapons offenses.
These are the kinds of indictments that could lead to charges against involved officers if House Bill 436 becomes law.
So says U.S Attorney Richard Callahan, who offers this rare political statement in the press release outlining the indictments:
This case is another example of some of the problems with House Bill No. 436. If it were the law today, criminal defendants in this case would have the right to sue the law enforcement officers who investigated the case, and the law enforcement officers would be defendants in both civil and criminal lawsuits. I can't believe this is what the legislature intended.
A quick recap of the legislation on the table today: House Bill 436, one of Missouri's most high-profile bills this year, is the "Second Amendment Preservation Act" that would make it a criminal offense to enforce federal firearm laws that infringe on the right to bear arms. Law-enforcement officers who enforce or attempt to enforce certain laws could be charged. It is one of the most extreme states' rights and pro-gun initiatives in the country right now.
While critics have slammed the proposal for months, mainly arguing that it's legally problematic for Missouri to pass law violating federal ones, in recent weeks, a new, potentially more troubling critique has emerged: The law could effectively dismantle local and federal law enforcement partnerships.
For example, collaborations between the Drug Enforcement Administration and St. Louis police could face serious scrutiny under this law -- from suspects, in fact -- if the cases involve firearms. It could become unlawful for a state trooper to even refer armed drug dealers to federal prosecutors.
Governor Jay Nixon, a Democrat, vetoed the legislation earlier this year, arguing that it is irresponsible and unconstitutional. Some GOP lawmakers, however, will attempt to override his veto in a session today (and a handful of Democrats support the effort).
Backers of the bill say it is their duty to push back against federal gun control and argue that the critics are playing politics in an effort to drum up opposition. But even some regular gun control opponents in the law enforcement community argue that the current language creates all sorts of unintended consequences.
Yesterday's announcement from federal prosecutors outlines this potential negative impact with a very real example: A whopping total of 25 local suspects have been arrested on three indictments involving federal drug and weapons charges relating to the distribution and manufacture of large amounts of methamphetamine from October 2010 to September 2013.
Some of the indicted individuals are members of the Saddle Tramps Motorcycle Club, including Arvil Matthews, president of the club, prosecutors say.
If convicted, the drug charges carry penalty ranges of ten years to life behind bars. The firearms charges carry up to ten years in prison.
The press release outlines the various agencies that partnered in the investigation, although given the timing and political message, this time the list carries broader implications:
This case is a joint operation of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Missouri State Highway Patrol, St. Charles and Jefferson County Sheriff's Offices, the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, and multiple local law enforcement agencies. Assistant United States Attorney Jeannette Graviss is handling the case for the Attorney's Office.
Here's the list of the indictments from the U.S Attorney's Office:
JORGE LOPEZ, 37, Corinth, TX; MELVIN J. SCHERRER, 49, Bonne Terre, MO; ALAN D. ADLER, 54, Bonne Terre, MO; BRENT T. BOUREN, 42, St. Louis, MO; HOWARD R. PYATT, a/k/a "Bud," 55, Bonne Terre, MO; ARVIL B. MATTHEWS, 50, Imperial, MO; MARK E. ABNEY, 47, Bonne Terre, MO; AMBER D. SCISM, 31, Farmington, MO; TERRI L. FOX, 47, St. Louis; GUILLERMO NAVARRO, a/k/a "Willie," 35, St. Louis, MO; JERRY L. ADDISON, 66, St. Louis, MO; JERAMI A. WESTENBERGER, 35, Arnold, MO; RAY ALLEN DAVIS, Jr., 46, Union, MO; JAMES A. MITCHELL, 44, St. Louis area; PATRICK A. TATE, 41, St. Louis, MO; JIMMIE D. JOHNSON, 60, St. Clair, MO; DONALD J. MAGUIRE, 54, St. Louis; THEODORE S. HEEGE, 48, St. Louis; NORMA J. EGAN, 47, St. Louis; DONNA L. MOSS, 45, St. Louis; SHEILA C. HEEGE, 47, St. Louis; DANIELLE R. BECKER, 29, Park Hills, MO; HALEY L. MEIER, 34, St. Louis; HEATHER N. MARTIN, 27, St. Louis; and AMY G. HORRELL, 33, Bonne Terre, MO