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Investigation into Wildwood Ward 6 Town Hall altercation dismissed

By: Mary Shapiro

Wildwood’s City Council voted 12 to 2 on Sept. 25 to immediately dismiss an investigation into an altercation at a June Ward 6 town hall meeting between Councilmember Jerry Porter [Ward 6] and resident Dan McLaughlin, husband of Councilmember Tammy Shea [Ward 3]. Only Shea and Councilmember Greg Alexander [Ward 6] opposed the action. Porter abstained and Councilmember Jeff Levitt [Ward 7] was absent.

The vote came after Special Prosecutor Tim Engelmeyer told the council that McLaughlin, the main complainant, hadn’t agreed to provide a deposition to him before a court reporter. Engelmeyer was assigned, in August, to do fact finding for an investigation into the altercation by the council.

In his efforts to gather facts, Engelmeyer had sought depositions from eight witnesses. He said most had offered to take part in depositions voluntarily rather than being subpoenaed. However, witness Larry Thompson had insisted on recording the deposition on his own video camera, Engelmeyer said, adding that he couldn’t allow a non-certified videographer to do that. And, after trying unsuccessfully to arrange a deposition earlier with McLaughlin, Engelmeyer said he had been told by McLaughlin’s attorney [Dave Roland, of the Freedom Center of Missouri,] on Sept. 25, that McLaughlin wouldn’t give a deposition to Engelmeyer and would only do so before the city council. McLaughlin said he would consider an interview with Engelmeyer off the record and without a court reporter.

“I told the attorney that his client’s complaint prompted the investigation, and I thought it a little strange that the victim would refuse to comply with the council procedure,” Engelmeyer told the council. “I told him that I didn’t feel I had the right to deviate from the process.”

Engelmeyer said the council had the options of either issuing subpoenas for Thompson and McLaughlin, though Engelmeyer admitted there likely would be no consequences if either didn’t show up for a deposition; dropping the investigation entirely; or approving an off-the-record interview with McLaughlin. He said he felt he could wrap up his investigation as long as he obtained McLaughlin’s statement, “because I’d like to provide all sides of the story.”

But Shea contended that a legal deposition presupposes there is the potential for litigation by anyone making or obtaining one. She protested a “legal process that could put the interviewee at a disadvantage,” though she said McLaughlin would be happy to testify directly before the council.

The council voted down, by a vote of 7 to 8, a proposal to issue a subpoena to McLaughlin to give a deposition. A proposal to reconsider the motion to issue a subpoena to McLaughlin to give a deposition also failed as did a proposal directing Engelmeyer to complete his report without depositions from McLaughlin and Thompson.

“I think we’re falling into a trap – if we don’t have the testimony of the primary party, it would blow a huge, gaping hole in the validity of the investigation, and we’ll be the subject of more criticism,” Councilmember Greg Stine [Ward 7] said. “I am sick and tired of this going on, of people playing games,” he said.

Councilmember Joe Garritano [Ward 8] said “it feels like a waste of taxpayer money doing this investigation – when we were just trying to assist a resident [McLaughlin] with a complaint.” And Councilmember Marc Cox [Ward 4] told McLaughlin “if you don’t plan to litigate, you need to cooperate.”

But Shea questioned the legal authority of the council to compel a deposition “when a legal challenge is anticipated.”

“I feel you want to blame the victim – don’t make it out like he is being a game player,” she told her fellow councilmembers. Shea later said no one is obligated “to give sworn testimony in an illegal deposition that could be used against them in a court of law – the city is allowed to prepare itself for a potential law suit, but it must meet the legal requirements.”

Resident Bill Kennedy said Engelmeyer did not allow him to review and sign off on his voluntary deposition as promised and, when doing so, give Engelmeyer a detailed written synopsis of the events at the June 1 meeting, along with supporting and historical documentation, to assist Engelmeyer in completing his investigation and report. He said later that he voluntarily agreed to the meeting with Engelmeyer because he alone was present among the selected witnesses before, during and after the confrontation and conclusion of the meeting and had assisted the campus officer in identifying involved parties for the college’s incident report. He said he was “very disappointed the council has chosen to end the investigation prematurely, after dozens of hours have been expended by all parties and thousands of taxpayer dollars have been spent thus far.” And he predicted “this is not over.”

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