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Ferguson city council discusses concent decree

Ferguson city attorney Stephanie Karr talks about the proposed consent decree between the City of Ferguson and the United States Department of Justice during a meeting of the city council in Ferguson on Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016. Photo by David Carson, dcarson@post-dispatch.com

FERGUSON • After she and a colleague suffered a recent series of losses in cases linked to the 2014 protests over Michael Brown’s death, Ferguson Prosecutor Stephanie Karr on Wednesday dismissed another defendant’s charge about 40 minutes prior to trial.

But, in a lengthy memo, Karr argued that the defendant had “clearly” committed the violation. However, she was declining to prosecute “for reasons wholly unrelated to the merits of the case.”

Karr did not elaborate.

The defendant, Elizabeth Peinado, an employee of St. Louis Alderman Antonio French’s North Campus education center, was accused of disregarding orders to leave an area near the Ferguson Police Department, after protesters had clashed with police on Aug. 14, 2014.

At the time, Peinado was waiting for French to be released from jail, along with Meghan Flannery, another North Campus employee, and Michael Powers, legislative director for St. Louis Aldermanic President Lewis Reed.

All three were arrested and charged with failure to comply, a charge that the U.S. Department of Justice has said Ferguson Police often misuse.

The defendants maintained that the officers’ orders were directed at a group of protesters farther down the street.

“I’m definitely relieved this process is done,” Peinado said Wednesday. “It has been a frustrating time over the past year and a half.”

Powers and Flannery were tried together in April. On Tuesday, Associate Circuit Court Judge Joseph S. Dueker found both not guilty. The decisions followed three other acquittals granted by Dueker last week in protest cases involving failure-to-comply charges.

Peinado’s case was set for trial at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday. She learned about the dismissal at the courthouse while reviewing her case with St. Louis University law students Mark Timmerman and Katherine Landfried. The students planned to represent her under direction of John Ammann, supervisor of the St. Louis University Litigation Clinic. They also represented Powers and Flannery.

In April, Karr and other private lawyers serving as Ferguson’s prosecutors — from the law firm Curtis, Heinz, Garrett and O’Keefe — billed Ferguson for $11,251, bringing the total amount of their invoices to more than $40,000 this year. Their bills for all of 2015 were about $60,000 and $30,000 in 2014.

The city is in the process of replacing Karr as prosecutor. She will retain the position of city attorney. City officials have said having the same person in both roles could be a conflict of interest.

City Manager De’Carlon Seewood said he doesn’t give Karr direction about specific cases as she must operate free from political influence. He did not know the nature of the unspecified reasons Karr referenced in her memo for why she was dismissing Peinado’s case, he said.

“It makes you ask the question: ‘What’s going on?’” Seewood said.

Karr did not return a voice message seeking comment.