Former Newton County Sheriff Ron Doerge may have ignored evidence that could have cleared two jailers who were fired, then later convicted of misdemeanor assault in connection with the beating of an inmate who is now suing Doerge and the Newton County Sheriff's Department.
Oscar Alvarez claims that on Feb. 22, 2004, jailers Adam Brandon Babbitt and Shane Steven Smith arranged for his brutal beating at the hands of another prisoner. Doerge told Joplin Globe reporter Dena Sloan in March 2004 that his investigation had determined that the cameras trained on Alvarez' cell had been turned off for a few minutes so the cell door could be opened and two prisoners let in, one to stand watch and the other to beat up Alvarez. Another prisoner also received a less serious beating in the incident.
In his response to Alvarez' lawsuit, Doerge claims to be "without adequate knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief as to the truth of the factual allegations."
This response appears to be more than just a typical attorney's reply to an allegation made in a lawsuit. The felony charges against Smith and Babbitt in connection with the case were amended to misdemeanors in exchange for their Alford plea. In an Alford plea, the defendant does not actually plead guilty, but admits there was enough evidence to convict if the case had gone to trial.
Smith and Babbitt were never told that the Sheriff's Department had evidence that could have either cleared them or at the least created reasonable doubt. This evidence included an affidavit signed by another Cell Block A inmate saying Alvarez and another inmate had concocted a plan to have Alvarez beaten to prevent him from being deported. At the time, Alvarez was facing a felony charge of non-support which, if he had been convicted, would have been enough to have forced him to leave the United States. One day before Doerge gave the interview to Ms. Sloan of the Globe, the charge against Alvarez was amended to a misdemeanor, enabling him to stay in this country.
The sheriff also apparently only accepted the word of four inmates, including Alvarez and the man who beat him that the cameras were turned off, although there was no other evidence that that was what had happened and each of the men had something to gain by telling the story.
The man who admitted to beating Alvarez and the other inmate had already been convicted, but was waiting in line for a trip to the Department of Corrections, where he would have considerably more freedom than he had at the Newton County Jail.
Alvarez' hearing, the one which would have almost directly led to his deportation, was scheduled for later that week. His cellmate, who also claimed he was beaten, was looking for special favors from the sheriff, ones which had been denied right up until the time of the alleged beating, but then were suddenly granted.
No evidence ever existed, other than the inmates' story that anyone ever actually entered their cell. The videotape system used in the Newton County Jail had numerous incidents of the picture fading in and out... incidents which happened on a regular basis anyway because of the use of the same videocassettes over and over again. The time stamp on the machine never showed that it had been shut off at any point.
After Smith and Babbitt were fired, another inmate in the cellblock signed an affidavit saying he had heard Alvarez and his cellmate come up with the plan. When they entered their Alford pleas, the two jailers had no idea the affidavit existed.
Both men, indicating they felt they had been railroaded by the sheriff, later filed lawsuits against him in Newton County Circuit Court. Both cases were later dismissed.
A new governor with family ties to all sorts of lobbyists has many people in Missouri concerned. Those concerns were expressed in an article by political writer Steve Krause in this morning's Kansas City Star.
The article noted that Blunt's younger brother, Andy, a lobbyist, has picked up several new clients since the inauguration, although he has removed his name from the list of those registered to lobby the governor.
Andy Blunt's list of clients includes Miller Brewing, SBC Communications, UPS, Phillip Morris, and the Missouri Hospital Association.
Blunt's younger sister, Amy, the article said, has just been hired to work in the government affairs office of prominent Kansas City law firm Blackwell Sanders Peper Martin. She has not yet registered as a lobbyist, but says she may in the future.
The governor's father, Seventh District Congressman Roy Blunt, is married to the chief lobbyist for Altria, the parent company of Phillip Morris.
The Blunts are saying all the right things about how they are conducting their business and they should be given the benefit of the doubt, but Matt Blunt has already shown favortism toward big business interests by the makeup of the screening committees he used to find people to appoint to his administration.
State newspapers have reported that the head of the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations was chosen by a committee consisting entirely of big business connections, with no one representing the labor side of the equation.
When it came time to choose people to oversee the insurance industry in Missouri, Governor Blunt chose a group from the insurance industry to decide who would do that. That should give us plenty of confidence in the results.
Blunt's State of the State message, in which he decried large jury awards in civil suits and abuse in the workers' compensation program, saying in both situations that insurance premiums were going skyhigh...without even exploring the possibility that part of the problem might be with the insurance industry, also shows what direction the governor is coming from.
Earlier this week, the governor, whose brother and stepmother are tobacco industry lobbyists dared to criticize a jury verdict against a different tobacco company, Brown and Williamson.
It appears that Calvin Coolidge was right as far as Missouri is concerned, the business of government is business and Matt Blunt apparently intends to make sure those interests are his top priority.
Two former KSNF employees and Nexstar Broadcasting COO Duane Lammers were featured prominently in a racially-charged wrongful dismissal lawsuit filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas in 2002.
Christina Clark, a former morning news anchor on Nexstar Broadcasting station KBTV in Beaumont, Texas, sued the station after its general manager, Paul Wise, formerly the general manager of KSNF, fired her in late 2001. Ms. Clark claimed that both Wise and her co-anchor, former KSNF weekend weatherman Brad McMullan, had made racially insensitive remarks. In her lawsuit, Ms. Clark said she went to Lammers for help with the situation, told she would get some, then was fired the same day.
Nexstar settled the lawsuit with Ms. Clark on May 20, 2003, with no details being given in the court record.
Ms. Clark, an African-American, began working for Nexstar on Dec. 19, 2000, co-anchoring the 6 a.m. news program with a second African-American female Candice Jones, and McMullan.
"Several months after (Ms. Clark) began employment, the janitor, Paris Armstrong, made many sexually inappropriate comments to her," the lawsuit petition said. ""This occurred for over one month. (Ms. Clark) complained to her supervisor, Karen Blum. Ms. Blum told (her) that Mr. Armstrong has a history of this behavior and referred (Ms. Clark) to Paul Wise, general manager. Mr. Wise told (Ms. Clark) that he did not want to discipline Mr. Armstrong for personal reasons." Ms. Clark says Wise did not keep her complaint confidential, a violation of company policy.
Ms. Clark alleges that in July 2001, McMullan "made a racially inappropriate comment concerning the Elian Gonzales story. Once they were off the air, (Ms. Clark) informed him that his comment was offensive to many and that they should refrain from making those kinds of racist comments."
Ms. Clark indicates that McMullan went to Wise, who had also been his boss at KSNF and complained about her. Shortly afterward, she was called into the office by "Paul Wise, the general manager of the station and a friend of Mr. McMullan. Mr. Wise informed (Ms. Clark) that while she was co-anchor with Mr. McMullan, she 'needed to be on the same page as Brad." Mr. Wise also told (her) that other African-Americans have caused trouble, and she was lucky to have the job because blacks usually are not co-anchors, and (Ms. Clark's) skin was light enough for the job."
After that, she said, Wise began to criticize her. "Specifically, Mr. Wise criticized Ms. Clark for her hair and wardrobe, although he had never done this in the past. Furthermore, Mr. Wise told (her) that he had received an e-mail saying that she was 'crazy', but he refused to produce a copy for (her) review. Mr. Wise also told (Ms. Clark) that he had faced racial discrimination charges in the past, and that he had beaten those charges."
Ms Clark says the "retaliation from Ms. Wise" escalated. On Sept,. 17, 2001, she faxed a letter to Nexstar's corporate office, the procedure outlined in the company handbook.
"In this correspondence, (Ms. Clark) informed the corporate office of Mr. Wise's comments concerning previous charges of racial discrimination which he had 'beaten." Ms. Clark said she talked with Susana Schuler, Nexstar's corporate news director, and told her of Wise's retaliation and said she was afraid she would be fired. Ms. Schuler told her she wouldn't be fired, according to the lawsuit.
Four days later, Wise told Ms. Clark she was being fired. Later that day, she called Duane Lammers, who was Nexstar vice president at the time. "Mr. Lammers was under the impression that (Ms. Clark) was still employed at Channel 4, and he stated that he had specifically instructed Mr. Wise not to take any action concerning (her) employment with Channel 4. Later that day, however, Mr. Wise phoned (Ms. Clark) to reiterate that she had been fired."
In their answer to Ms. Clark's complaint, Lammers denied ever talking with Ms. Clark and the Nexstar officials claimed they didn't even know Ms. Clark was African-American. They conceded she had sent a fax to Ms. Schuler.
Ms. Clark initially asked for $300,000 in actual damages, attorney's fees, and expenses.