FERGUSON, MO/April 26, 2017 (STL.News) Despite positive changes made in Ferguson since the civil unrest in 2014, it continues to be haunted by the past.
On Tuesday morning, State Auditor Nicole Galloway released a scathing audit on the north county town’s municipal court. The audit which pertains to the fiscal year of August 1, 2014 – July 31, 2015, finds disorganized, damaged records, missing money in Ferguson Municipal Court, according to Galloway.
The audit showed that some case files were housed in an unsecured storage garage. This caused water and mold damage to many of the court records.
Galloway also reports there were multiple delays in completing this audit because of “uncooperative and at times combative court and city personnel”, preventing her staff from gaining access to files.
“Considering the lack of cooperation my staff experienced in their official roles as representatives of my office, I can only imagine how average citizens are treated when they are trying to get information about their cases or resolution on serious issues,” Galloway said.
According to the audit, court records were stored at various locations, including, the joint police and court building, city hall, and as previously mentioned, a storage garage. Most alarming, documents were housed in areas that were not secure and there was no process in place to track the location of the records. Many of the records included personal information such as social security numbers, birthdays, and driver license numbers.
After months of negotiations, the State Auditor’s Office was forced to take the unprecedented step of hiring a mold remediation company. This was in an effort to recover and preserve available records in order to complete the audit. Some of the requested files were never recovered.
Galloway and her team also learned of missing money.
“My forensic audit team was able to piece together partial records and receipts to indicate that at least $1400 in cash was missing, but the careless way these records were kept may prevent us from ever knowing the total amount,” Galloway said.
Perhaps the most concerning aspect was the audit’s finding of illegal fees issued by the court. Galloway says $26,000 in illegal fees were paid by citizens over the course of a year, including a $15 letter fee and a $50 warrant recall fee. The court also charged a $75 non-prosecution fee against anyone who made an initial report, but then did not go forward with charges.
The Ferguson Municipal Court received an overall performance rating of poor, the lowest rating available. The low rating will require a follow up from the Auditor’s office later this year.
Ferguson leaders immediately responded to the release of this audit. Ferguson City Manager De’Carlon Seewood issued a statement, say that significant changes have been made since the events of 2014. Seewood states the “City’s municipal court division has worked tirelessly” with the State Auditor’s Office, the Missouri Office of State Courts Administrator, and the U.S. Department of Justice to ensure that the municipal court division is in compliance with applicable laws.
The released statement also addresses the missing money identified in the audit and says the employee connected to this finding was terminated. Ferguson also noted that the lead clerk in charge of the municipal court division during this audit period is no longer employed by the City.
This audit comes on the heels of last month’s release of a documentary about the Michael Brown case. Jason Pollock’s “Stranger Fruit” generated increased controversy and more civil unrest for Ferguson.
At issue was the surveillance footage shown in the documentary. The surveillance video from Ferguson Market shows Brown inside of the store around 1 a.m. on August 9, 2014. Pollock claims the footage shows Brown trading a bag of marijuana for Cigarellos with store employees. Pollock further claims he left the Cigarellos with the store employees to pick up later.
Later that same day, around 11:30 a.m. Brown returned to pick up those Cigarellos and not to rob the store, according to Pollock.
However, Pollock’s claims were quickly dispelled when St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch released the entire store surveillance video in question, proving that the video was altered in Pollock’s documentary.