Proposed child endangerment law dropped

No current St. Louis County employee ‘has been subpoenaed,’ Dooley tells critic.

By EVAN YOUNG

The County Council last week dropped a bill that would have added a section on child endangerment to the county’s petty offenses code after a council subcommittee decided further re-search was needed on the issue.

The Justice and Health Committee voted 3-0 March 2 to recommend the council throw out the legislation, which was up for an initial vote when councilmen referred it to committee on Jan. 19.

The new ordinance would have prohibited behavior that threatened the “physical, mental and emotional health of a child” less than 17 years old and identified such child endangerment as:

• “Intentionally or recklessly operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance while a child is present in the vehicle.

• “Knowingly causing or permitting a child to be present where any person is selling, manufacturing, possessing or using a controlled substance or drug paraphernalia.

• “Intentionally or recklessly committing an act of domestic assault or domestic violation of an order of protection in the visual or auditory presence of a child.

• “Intentionally or recklessly storing or leaving a loaded firearm or an unloaded firearm and ammunition within the reach or easy access of a child unless such weapon is secured in a locked container or equipped with a tamper-resistant safety device so as to render the weapon inoperable by anyone other than the lawfully authorized user.”

But 3rd District Councilman Colleen Wasinger, R-Town and Country, said last week she had concerns about each of the ordinance’s four sections.

“I think each one brings several questions to mind that need to be researched more thoroughly before we decide to go forward,” she said before motioning to drop the bill.

While Missouri law also prohibits child endangerment, the state doesn’t take every case, according to County Counselor Patricia Redington, who requested the legislation.

A new child endangerment ordinance would give county officials the teeth to prosecute cases that “might not reach the level of state prosecution,” she said.

The maximum penalty for a county petty offenses violation is one year in jail and a $1,000 fine, but 5th District Council Chair Barbara Fraser, D-University City, said she wanted to be sure the county would not “undermine” state penalties by enacting its own child endangerment law.

“We want to make sure that our penalties are consistent because it would not be in our best interest to have a person who endangers a child get a lesser sentence because it’s a county ordinance rather than a state ordinance,” Fraser said. “It would be far more valuable to have someone who violates any aspect of this to have the full pressure of the law of the state on them.

“We want to make sure that we don’t water down any aspect of state law in trying to do the same thing state law is doing.”

The child endangerment bill — specifically its section on firearms — also drew criticism from a handful of gun-control opponents who contend state law prohibits local governments from regulating gun storage.

In an unrelated matter last week, County Executive Charlie Dooley disputed media reports that the FBI was investigating county government after a frequent council critic raised the issue during the public forum of the March 2 council meeting.

During his comments to the council, University City resident Tom Sullivan criticized officials for downplaying a reported FBI probe into how county contracts are awarded to vendors.

“I don’t think it’s exactly a secret that the FBI is looking into contracts related to St. Louis County,” Sullivan told the council. “Whether or not you want to say that’s actually St. Louis County, I don’t know. Everybody knows there’s been businesses where the FBI has showed up and taken off with a bunch of documents. So I mean trying to play this game that: ‘Oh there’s nothing going on’ is being a little bit disingenuous.”

But Dooley later called Sullivan’s comments a “complete lie.”

“First of all, what you just said was an untruth and it’s a complete lie,” Dooley said. “… You indicated that, somehow or other, this county’s under some cloud. This county is not under any cloud whatsoever about contracts, operations or anything. What you just said was an untruth, and it was misleading.

“I’m gonna say it again: Nobody, nobody currently working for St. Louis County has been subpoenaed for anything. Nobody. And for you to say …”

Sullivan said, “I never said they were.”

“Let me say this Tom,” Dooley said. “… You come up here and try to discredit this county and this administration, what they’re doing. We’ve got some of the best people that know how to do their work. We are second to none to nobody. What we do is transparent. We have nothing to hide from. For you to insinuate that we do anything other than that is insulting. Thank you, Tom.”

“Mr. Dooley I never used the word ‘subpoena’ one time,” Sullivan said. “Not one time did I use the word ‘subpoena’ …”

Dooley interjected, “You implied that we have done some-thing wrong in this county. Those innuendoes and rumors, they’re misleading and an outright lie.”

“Then I guess KMOX is lying, too,” Sullivan said, citing recent reports by the radio station.

“Apparently they must be,” Dooley replied. “You come up here and have no string of evidence of anything. I’m telling you what I know for a fact. We have nothing to hide in this county, and nobody’s coming into this county for any kind of investigation. And for you to say that is misleading and distrustful, and you are unconcerned about this county.

“You have never done anything in the positive. You come up with innuendoes and rumors. And apparently you must be working for somebody, ’cause you must be running for office, talking about me. So again, Tom, thank you very much and have a great day.”