Missouri's attorney general sues city of Marshfield for illegal traffic ticket quota scheme

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (edited news release) – Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt is suing the city of Marshfield for alleged ticket quota scheme. Additionally, the lawsuit alleges efforts by the chief of police to intimidate whistleblowers.

In the lawsuit, the attorney general's office claims "the Department and the Chief of Police is motivated not by a concern for public safety, but rather to generate revenue for the City of Marshfield."

The attorney general alleges on information and belief Chief Doug Fannen, on behalf of the City of Marshfield, gave department employees instruction to write sixteen citations per month and informed those officers that their performance evaluations would reflect whether the officer has issued those sixteen citations.

The lawsuit alleges that the chief of police began posting officers’ monthly traffic citation statistics to the department bulletin board, but briefly stopped after the Missouri Attorney General’s Office sued the city of Diamond in April of 2019 for enforcing a traffic ticket quota. Additionally, the lawsuit alleges that the Marshfield chief of police stated that the city of Diamond chief “messed up” by documenting a quota policy and that he had never written down his quota policy.

To back up allegations of a traffic ticket quota scheme, the lawsuit office notes the city of Marshfield’s traffic stop statistics submitted to the Attorney General’s Office. The number of citations issued by Marshfield police officers in the past years: in 2016, the total number of citations was 383, in 2017 that number increased to 646, and in 2018 that number jumped to 1,386. The number of warnings issued by Marshfield police decreased from 982 in 2016 to 787 in 2018. Additionally, the number of citations issued by Marshfield officers on the Interstate highway increased from zero in 2016 to eight in 2017 and then jumped to 241 in 2018.

Additionally, the lawsuit also includes minutes from board of aldermen meetings showing the city of Marshfield’s decision to hire a “traffic enforcement officer” within the Marshfield Police Department. This position would be paid by revenue generated from traffic tickets, and the traffic enforcement officer would be required to write at least nine citations per shift, or 144 citations per month.

Lastly, the lawsuit alleges, on information and belief, that an officer employed by the Marshfield Police Department confronted the chief of police in early 2019 and stated that traffic ticket quotas are illegal under Missouri law. On information and belief, this officer resigned after reportedly receiving disparate treatment from the chief after raising concerns about the traffic ticket quota. The lawsuit also alleges the chief of police and/or a direct report to the chief of police approached the Webster County Prosecuting Attorney to discuss pursuing a felony charge against the resigned officer for an unrelated issue. Schmitt then says the chief of police then allegedly asked an officer to relay a message to the resigned officer that if he talked to the attorney general’s office about the traffic ticket quota scheme, that the chief of police would pursue a felony charge against that officer for that unrelated charge.

“As a state senator, I fought hard to pass Senate Bill 5 to ensure that our citizens wouldn’t simply be used as ATMs to fill municipal government coffers. Now, as Attorney General, it’s my duty to enforce those laws. Since taking office, my office has taken swift action to ensure that Senate Bill 5 is being properly followed, including our April lawsuit against the City of Diamond,” said Attorney General Schmitt. “With this lawsuit against the City of Marshfield we’re sending a clear message to municipalities across the state: even if you don’t write your traffic ticket quota policy down, we will take action to hold you accountable.”

One Marshfield teen, who asked to remain anonymous, claims she's gotten more than a dozen tickets from Marshfield PD.

"It's kind of like getting pestered, and hounded by these cops."

She said there are others like her, who are pulled over time and time again.

"My temp tags expired, the day after they expired, I got pulled over by four cops that exact same day trying to give me a ticket."

The city of Marshfield issued this response to the attorney general's office's allegations:

This afternoon the City of Marshfield was made aware of an alleged lawsuit against the City after receiving a copy of a Press Release sent out by Missouri State Attorney General Schmitt’s office. As of the close of business today at 4:30 pm, the City of Marshfield had not been served with such a lawsuit. Based upon the Press Release that we have read, however, the City disputes the allegations stated in the Press Release that the City has instituted traffic ticket quotas or that the Marshfield Police Chief has attempted to intimidate a whistleblower. As such we feel the allegations are meritless.

The State Attorney General’s Office has alleged in their Press Release that the increase in the City’s traffic ticket revenues over the past few years is evidence of the City having established a traffic ticket quota. Again, we dispute this claim. The City’s increase in traffic ticket revenues are easily attributable to the City hiring additional officers in each of the past two year to keep pace with the community’s growth. Additionally, in March 2018 the City provided all our police vehicles with radar guns. Prior to that time only one police vehicle had a radar gun. Additionally, earlier this year the City hired a dedicated traffic officer so that other police officers could focus their efforts in other areas of need and not solely on traffic enforcement.

The City of Marshfield supports the Attorney General’s efforts to ensure compliance with Senate Bill 5 and other laws of the State of Missouri. However, in this instance, the City of Marshfield has not established any traffic ticket quotas and disputes the allegations provided in the State Attorney General’s Office Press Release.

Read the original version of this article at www.ky3.com.