December 12, 2018
Today in federal court, ArchCity Defenders and the law firm of Arnold & Porter filed a debtors’ prison claim against the City of Edmundson on behalf of Quinton Thomas, Bradley Jiles and many other St. Louis residents who were victims of Edmundson’s abusive policing and debtors’ prison practices. Asserting Fourth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendment claims, the plaintiffs were routinely profiled by police, issued traffic citations for minor offenses, denied legal counsel, charged excessive court fines and fees, and illegally jailed for their inability to pay debts.
In 2016, ArchCity Defenders filed a debtors’ prison class action against 13 towns, asserting that they were using St. Ann as a hub to jail thousands who couldn’t afford to pay court fines and fees. Last year, a judge ruled that the claims could proceed against St. Ann, but that ArchCity’s clients would have to file separate suits against the other towns. The first such suit was filed against the City of Normandy in September and this suit against Edmundson represents the second re-filed complaint.
“Our clients still struggle to escape the deep poverty caused by the predatory practices of Edmundson and neighboring municipalities. This suit is the latest in a series of cases challenging the underlying systemic abuses that robbed our clients and many others of income, time with family, and their liberty,” said Blake Strode, Executive Director of ArchCity Defenders.
Stemming from a pattern of racial profiling and revenue-based policing, Edmundson generated over $2.2 million in revenue from its municipal court between 2012 and 2016. The small city of 832 people made national headlines in 2014, when Mayor John Gwaltney sent a memo to the City’s Police Department stating:
“I wish to take this opportunity to remind you that the tickets that you write do add to the revenue on which the P. D. budget is established and will directly affect pay adjustments at budget time.”
In Edmundson and municipalities throughout St. Louis, this extortionary scheme has forced people like the two plaintiffs to be apart from their families, miss work, and lose employment, vehicles, and housing.
ArchCity Defenders has challenged debtors’ prison practices in twenty municipalities throughout the region since 2014. There are currently class action cases pending against St. Ann, Ferguson, Florissant, Normandy, and Maplewood; and an individual claim in Arnold, Missouri. In 2016, ArchCity Defenders, SLU Law Legal Clinics, and Alec Karakatsanis of Civil Rights Corps settled a landmark $4.75M debtors’ prison case against the City of Jennings.
A copy of the complaint can be found online below. A short video clip about Edmundson and the lawsuit can be found here.
Z. Gorley, Communications Director at ArchCity Defenders