Beer heiress Trudy Busch Valentine captures Missouri Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate

Anheuser-Busch heiress Trudy Busch Valentine won the Democratic nomination for Missouri’s open U.S. Senate seat Tuesday, defeating her closest rival, former Marine Lucas Kunce.

The Associated Press called the race shortly after 10 p.m.

Throughout her campaign, Valentine has said working as a nurse and experiencing immense grief from family tragedies have both taught her how to listen to people’s needs and to be of service.

“I thought, ‘Could I do this?” said Valentine told The Independent in June. “And then my life kind of just went in front of me, and I felt maybe all these times and things throughout my life that really affected me deeply… maybe they’re the exact reason that I can make a difference in a crazy political system.

Valentine entered the race for U.S. Senate in March, becoming one of 11 candidates seeking the Democratic nomination to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt. Like Valentine, the other Democratic candidates have never held public office before. However, both Kunce and Toder launched their campaigns more than a year ago.

“It speaks to her strength as a candidate that she was able to come in and coalesce huge amounts of support really quickly,” said Jack Seigel, a former political staffer and St. Louis County resident. “That’s impressive.”

Valentine, a mother of six children and a nurse, is a member of the family that owned a majority stake in Anheuser-Busch until the brewing company was sold to InBev in 2008 for $52 billion. Forbes magazine in 2020 listed the family’s wealth at $17.6 billion, the 16th largest family fortune in the nation.

She told The Independent this spring that she felt drawn to do whatever she could to fight the opioid epidemic and improve access to quality healthcare, following her son’s death in 2020 from an opioid overdose.

In addition to her son’s passing, Valentine said she was also inspired to enter politics out of a desire to speak up for women’s rights. In June, Valentine released a 17-point plan for “Strengthening the Middle Class,” which includes raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, expanding options for affordable housing and lowering the cost of medications.

Valentine’s first major policy proposal, released in May, focused on helping drug addicts recover by using leverage in the federal payments for Medicaid to increase rates to providers, quicker access to treatment and expanded use of telehealth.

In the campaign’s homestretch, she earned scorn from some in her party’s base after fumbling answers on LGBTQ rights, campaign finance and critical race theory. She also drew criticism for her refusal to debate her Democratic rivals.

But in the end, support from Democratic leaders — such as St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones and U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver — and her willingness to spend her family fortune to capture the seat carried her to victory.

Justin Idleburg, a racial equity consultant in St. Louis, attended Valentine’s election watch party at the Sheet Metal Workers Local 36 Union Hall in St. Louis. He decided to support Valentine, he said, because her experience as a nurse makes her a better fit to address the healing his community needs.

“We need a healer,” Idleburg said. “And nothing against the men but when a child gets hurt, they go automatically to their mother or the grandmother. And she’s a nurse who has a history of helping everyone.”

Missouri Independent is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Missouri Independent maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jason Hancock for questions: Follow Missouri Independent on Facebook and Twitter.

St. Louis jail inmates file class action lawsuit alleging guards torture them

Inmates at St. Louis’ primary jail filed a federal class-action lawsuit Tuesday accusing guards of torture with mace and depriving them of water for days.

The inmates are represented by a team of attorneys from the MacArthur Justice Center, ArchCity Defenders, the SLU Law Legal Clinics, and Rights Behind Bars.

“They spray chemical agents on detainees who are handcuffed,” the inmates allege in the lawsuit. “They use excessive amounts of chemical agents — enough to fill the room with a fog of the substance — and leave detainees to ‘marinate’ in the burning air without access to the medical unit or even water to properly wash the chemical agents from their eyes.”

A spokesman said the city cannot comment on pending litigation, but he pointed to a bill that Mayor Tishaura Jones signed into law in December to establish the Detention Facilities Oversight Board, which will oversee and investigate allegations affecting the health and safety of detainees. It will operate similarly as the Civilian Oversight Board, which was established in 2015 to review complaints against city police officers.

“We look forward to finalizing board appointments and formalizing a system to investigate complaints,” according to the city’s statement.

In a February 2021 letter, a city lawyer wrote to the St. Louis public defender and the inmates’ attorneys that the jail turns the water off when detainees clog toilets with clothing, and inmates are told when the water will be turned back on.

The Tuesday filing builds upon a June lawsuit by three inmates who are held in the St. Louis City Justice Center and allege they experienced excessive punishment. If the federal judge grants the motion to expand the original complaint into a class-action lawsuit it would include the more than 500 people currently held in city jails.

The filing includes 38 declarations from inmates whose stories have a lot of “overlapping” commonalities on the ways guards behaved, said attorney Amy Breihan, co-director of the Missouri office of the Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center.

“It’s pervasive,” Breihan said. “It’s not just one floor of the jail or one unit. It’s not just one guard. It’s part of the custom culture there.”

Plaintiffs are asking a federal judge to order the city to prohibit using water shut-offs and chemical agents as a form of punishment, as well as for “nominal damages” and attorneys’ fees.

Derrick Jones was among the first plaintiffs in the June complaint. He alleges that was needlessly maced in the face on Dec. 14, 2020. He was then beaten, maced again and left in a cell to “marinate,” the lawsuit states.

Jerome Jones said he was placed in a small, secure visiting room on Feb. 9, 2021, and jail staff sprayed the room with mace without warning.

“They left Jerome in the mace-filled room, asking for help and shouting that he could not breathe, for nearly half an hour,” the lawsuit states.

Also in February 2021, Darnell Rusan alleges he was locked for hours, fully nude, in a tiny room filled with mace, though he says he was not physically resisting or threatening staff prior to being attacked.

In the new complaint, Marrell Withers alleges he was maced two times in a row in January 2022, while restrained in handcuffs for expressing concern about COVID exposure.

“Before he was maced, he told jail staff he had asthma and begged them not to mace him,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit contends that the city violated the Americans with Disabilities Act when officers refused to protect Withers and others who have medical issues.

St. Louis has long faced allegations of inhumane treatment in its jails. In 2009, the ACLU of Missouri published a searing investigation alleging excessive use of force and abuse by the city’s correctional staff. Over the last two years, there have been several uprisings among inmates, decrying conditions.

“These kinds of practices, they don’t just appear overnight,” Breihan said. “Guards do these kinds of things because they’ve been getting away with it for a very long time and supervisors have been allowing it to happen.”

This story has been edited since first published.

Missouri Independent is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Missouri Independent maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jason Hancock for questions: Follow Missouri Independent on Facebook and Twitter.

St. Louis tries to block lawsuit against police officers from going to trial

The City of St. Louis is asking a panel of federal judges to reconsider a January decision to allow a lawsuit against city police officers to go to trial.

Short of that, the city is asking for a rehearing in front of the entire U.S. District Court of Appeals for the Eighth District to stop the case from moving forward, according to the city’s petition filed Thursday.

On Jan. 25, a three-judge panel in the Eighth District affirmed a lower court’s decision that qualified immunity – or protection of officers from lawsuits – didn’t apply in the arrest of retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Brian Baude in a 2017 St. Louis protest.

“Police may be entitled to qualified immunity protections if they arrest individual offenders with at least arguable probable cause,” it states, “but officers cannot enjoy such protections by alleging that ‘the unlawful acts of a small group’ justify the arrest of the mass.”

St. Louis City Counselor Sheena Hamilton argues in her petition that the court should reconsider the case because “the panel opinion raises questions of national importance in the context of policing mass civil disorder.”

Attorney Javad Khazaeli, who represents Baude, said the city’s argument regarding qualified immunity, if successful, would have repercussions nationwide.

“They’re asking for the Eighth Circuit to issue an order to tell everybody in the nation that there is an expansion of qualified immunity when police officers beat people when it’s during a protest,” he said. “Remember the Eighth Circuit doesn’t just rule over St. Louis. Any decision that they make will be binding over all of the George Floyd protests of Minnesota.”

Khazaeli said it’s his understanding that the city plans on appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court if unsuccessful with the appeals court.

A spokesman for the city declined comment, citing pending litigation.

On Sept. 17, 2017, Baude walked out of his home in downtown St. Louis to investigate any potential destruction during a protest, where people were decrying the acquittal of former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley in the 2011 killing of Anthony Lamar Smith.

That evening, Baude got swept up in a mass “kettling” arrest of more than 100 people, where officers surrounded everyone within an intersection on all sides. Video evidence shows, appellate judges wrote in their January opinion, a “generally peaceful and compliant crowd.”

And the mass arrest not only involved, “a few people noisily proclaiming their constitutional right to assemble, but others who were generally gawking and milling about, others on bikes riding through the area, some people sitting on the street and on the sidewalk, and even a person pushing a baby in a stroller,” the judges wrote.

Baude’s lawsuit is among 11 others that are being represented by the Khazaeli Wyrsch law firm. The individuals – who include downtown residents, independent journalists, Washington University students and members of the military – claim they were wrongfully beaten, pepper-sprayed and arrested.

The city’s petition states that, “the panel opinion sets a dangerous precedent for police attempting to preserve public order in civil disorder situations.”

Hamilton was appointed by Mayor Tishaura Jones, who has largely been supported by the movement for racial equity and police accountability. She campaigned that on the idea that her administration would address police brutality cases differently than previous mayors.

Upon Hamilton’s appointment, the mayor’s chief of staff Jared Boyd told St. Louis Public Radio the new city counselor is going to be “given a mandate to reconsider what winning looks like,” and not only trying to prevent a financial loss for the city on such cases.

“It’s not to say we shouldn’t be cognizant of city resources,” he said, “but that can’t be the only thing.”

Missouri Independent is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Missouri Independent maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jason Hancock for questions: Follow Missouri Independent on Facebook and Twitter.

Mike Lindell's Chinese cyber attack conspiracy theory goes down in flames at Missouri election hearing

The Missouri House Elections Committee convened Tuesday to discuss ways to alter the initiative petition process and improve election security.

And over the course of more than three hours, lawmakers heard a parade of debunked conspiracy theories about the 2020 election.

This article was originally published at Missouri Independent

“I'm convinced the country suffered the greatest cyber attack in the history of the world that was ordered and orchestrated by the Chinese Communist Party," retired military analyst David Stevens told the committee.

Stevens was referencing a conspiracy peddled by MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell that claims the Chinese were behind President Joe Biden's 2020 victory. During his August symposium, Lindell offered $5 million to any cyber security expert who could prove his claims wrong, which at least one former military cyber expert, a longtime Republican from Texas, has said he easily can.

Others testifying Tuesday were similarly enamored with Lindell's theories, including Rep. Ann Kelly, a Lamar Republican who doesn't serve on the elections committee but testified about attending a symposium in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, organized by Lindell.

Missouri resident Keith Carmichael testified about false voter-fraud theories from Ohio mathematician Douglas Frank, which have been disproven by a Republican-led Michigan Senate Oversight Committee. Working together, Frank and Lindell contend they can prove voting machines were hooked up to the internet, which both Ohio and Missouri laws prohibit.

“Just a moment ago, a veteran military analyst told you that you were attacked," testified Missouri resident Keith Carmichael. “I don't know if you were listening. Nobody ran out. I didn't see anybody call home. I know during 1941 when Pearl Harbor was attacked, I imagine people just stopped what they were doing."

There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud or irregularities during the 2020 election.

The witnesses were met with numerous objections from both Republican and Democrat committee members. Election officials at both the state and county levels also testified for several hours to dispel the false claims.

“We do have a very secure system that all of our election authorities use," said Trish Vincent, chief of staff for Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft. “We put in layers of security to make it doubly secure."

However, Vincent quickly added that a bill to require a photo ID to vote — an idea that has been repeatedly rejected by Missouri courts — would be one way to dispel mistrust and increase voter confidence.

“We've been wrestling with that for a number of years," she said.

The GOP-dominated General Assembly made requiring a photo ID to vote and making it harder to change state law through the initiative petition process top priorities this year. But the session ended in May without any of the election bills finding their way to Gov. Mike Parson's desk.

Tuesday's hearing is seen as clear indication that election legislation will once again sit atop the GOP agenda when lawmakers return to Jefferson City in January.

Missouri is a paper ballot state. We certify elections off of paper. We use electronic equipment on election night in order to be able to put uncertified results out to the public.

– Greene County Clerk Shane Schoeller

Rep. Ashley Aune, D-Kansas City, said Tuesday's hearing was part of a strategy to sow seeds of doubt and distrust in the electoral system.

Even though the Republican committee members didn't outwardly support the election-fraud conspiracy theories touted by witnesses, Aune said she had serious concerns about the level of legitimacy they gave the claims by inviting witnesses to talk about them.

“They just need to put it out there, and leave people to stew on it," Aune said. “It paves the way to create policies to make our elections 'safer' if they think they are unsafe."

At one point in the meeting, the committee's chair Rep. Dan Shaul, R-Jefferson, said that he brought forth the issues of “data hacking" to make sure the state's election authorities have the tools they need.

“That was my purpose today to make sure that we talked about these odd things that could impact the integrity and the trustworthiness of our systems," Shaul said.

The first hole in Lindell's Chinese cyber attack theory is that election authorities don't certify election results via the Internet, said Rep. Peggy McGaugh, a Carrollton Republican, vice chair of the elections committee and a former county clerk.

Greene County Clerk Shane Schoeller, a Republican and former state legislator, agreed.

“Missouri is a paper ballot state," Schoeller said. “We certify elections off of paper. We use electronic equipment on election night in order to be able to put uncertified results out to the public."

All that equipment is certified by the Secretary of State's Office. They use an encrypted memory stick that's certified by a bi-partisan election team.

Schoeller walked through the “rigorous auditing" steps that the election results go through after election night.

“We have these safeguards in place," he said. “I think we all agree, we are going to trust but we are going to verify."

Aune said a public school in her district had to close down for two days because their system was hacked.

She co-sponsored the Missouri Cybersecurity Act, which lawmakers approved in May and will establish a commission of cybersecurity experts to address issues like this. It goes into effect on Aug. 28.

If lawmakers are interested in cybersecurity, they should ignore baseless election conspiracies to focus on safeguarding utilities and entities like public schools, she said.

“That's where our time should be spent," Aune said. “Let's put our attention where we know we need it."

Missouri Independent is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Missouri Independent maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jason Hancock for questions: Follow Missouri Independent on Facebook and Twitter.