The year was 2012, the election was presidential, and the St. Charles County Republican nominating caucus was a veritable circus.
Kenny Suitter, at the time a conservative radio host, was among the 1,000-plus attendees who filled the Francis Howell North High School gym on the morning of March 17. He wasn't the only one who became incensed when party officials told the crowd they could not film the proceedings.
"I think that caucuses should be transparent," says Suitter, who was arrested and charged with trespassing that day after he refused to put down his camera. Last week, the city of St. Peters quietly dropped the charge.
Suitter's footage of the arrest wasn't released until after police returned his camera ten months later. This week, he released a newly edited and annotated clip of the shouting match that erupted during the caucus meeting, with some attendees angrily asking the caucus organizers "What are you hiding?" shortly before officers swooped in on Suitter.
"By them not allowing video documentation of the event, it was very suspicious to begin with, and that's what convinced me that there were going to be some irregularities through the process," Suitter says, adding he was concerned that leaders of the St. Charles County Republican Central Committee were planning to engineer nominations for their preferred chairmen -- supporters of Rick Santorum -- once the cameras were turned off.
Matt Fairless, a St. Charles attorney who was asked by St. Peters to serve as special prosecutor for the case, cited "prosecutorial discretion" for his decision to drop the charge, but he didn't elaborate.
"We had depositions of five or six people, officers and party officials," says Suitter's attorney, Mike Carter, who tells Daily RFT the charge was clearly bunk since neither the party officials or cops actually owned the property his client was accused of trespassing on.
"Trespassing is a very specific charge," Carter continues, "and no one would admit, through testimony, that they were the ones who were running the show or had the lease of the property. Even worse, they were all pointing at each other. Everyone said, 'I have no authority, I never told anyone to arrest him.' It was backpedaling."
Suitter wasn't the only one arrested that day. Ron Paul campaign leader Brent Stafford, at the time a central committee member, was arrested after he tried to reconvene the caucus on the sidewalk outside the gymnasium. He later sued St. Peters for false arrest, malicious prosecution and violation of constitutional rights. Stafford and the city later settled for $20,000.
As for Suitter, it was't long before he found himself in handcuffs again. In 2013, he was arrested for trespassing at the Hanley Road MetroLink station after security officers ordered him to stop filming. Although MetroLink claimed to have surveillance footage showing Suitter harassing commuters, the trespassing charge was dropped soon afterward.
Suitter declined to comment on whether he's planning to sue St. Peters or MetroLink for the past arrests.
"I just believe in transparency," he says. "I think society would just be better overall if all things were documented."
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