St. Louis Post-Dispatch Sues St. Louis Metro Police for Illegally Withholding Investigative Reports

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:                                                     CONTACT:     Dave Roland

May 10, 2024                                                                                                             (314) 604-6621

St. Louis Post-Dispatch Sues St. Louis Police for Withholding Public Records

Mexico, Missouri—In late May of 2020, a man died in a fall from a building in St. Louis City. Jacob Barker, a journalist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, wants the public to know why.  In order to find out, Barker and the newspaper are suing the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department.

When police officers respond to a suspected crime, they typically create an “incident report” that contains basic details about the situation, including statements made by the officers who responded to the scene. Missouri law says these incident reports are open public records, as are a police department’s “investigative reports” once an investigation becomes inactive. But even though the St. Louis Metro Police Department’s own records show that the investigation into this mysterious fall has been inactive for nearly four years, the Police Department has refused to provide Barker the full incident reports or investigative reports related to this death.

The Police Department initially provided a shortened version of the incident report, but it was clear they had removed several pages’ worth of narratives that explain what the officers learned when they arrived at the scene. The custodian of records refused to provide these narratives even after Barker and the Freedom Center of Missouri pointed out that the Sunshine Law plainly requires the department to make these types of records available for public inspection.

“This case is about the public’s right to know,” said Post-Dispatch Executive Editor Alan Achkar. “The city can’t violate Missouri law and keep vital documents from its citizens. We’re baffled why the city wouldn’t want full transparency when it comes to public safety. Why hide the records?”

Ever since Missouri adopted the Sunshine Law fifty years ago its text has affirmed that government transparency is the state’s policy and priority. The law specifically requires public officials and courts to look for reasons to conclude that public records and meetings should be open for inspection and to “strictly construe” any exceptions to the Sunshine Law’s requirements. If a government entity refuses to make public records available for inspection, the law requires it to identify a specific statute that allows the government to withhold those records. Here, however, the police department did not cite any such law. And when Barker asked the custodian of records to explain why the documents were not “investigative reports” that the law requires them to produce, she repeatedly refused to answer the question.

“St. Louis City and its various departments have developed a horrible reputation for blocking citizen access to public records and meetings,” said Dave Roland, the Freedom Center of Missouri attorney who is representing the Post-Dispatch in this lawsuit. “We are taking on this case in hopes that the courts will deliver two clear messages. First, when the Sunshine Law requires the government to identify its legal basis for withholding public records, it really means it. And second, that it’s time for St. Louis City to clean up its act.”

Founded in November 2010, the Freedom Center of Missouri is a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to research, litigation, and education in defense of individual liberty and transparent, accountable, constitutionally limited government. The Freedom Center is one of Missouri’s leading legal advocates for government transparency; this is the Freedom Center’s fourteenth Sunshine Law case.  Additional information about the Freedom Center’s mission, cases, and activities can be found online at 

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[NOTE:  To arrange interviews on this subject, journalists may call Dave Roland at (314) 604-6621.]