Court: Missouri Department of Health purposely violated sunshine law

State knowingly refused to share public records of lab results that showed protesters used apple cider vinegar to protect themselves against police

COLE COUNTY, Mo. – A court has found the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services knowingly and purposely violated the state’s open records laws when it refused to release lab results about “unknown chemicals” labeled as “apple cider vinegar” confiscated by the St. Louis County Police Department during 2017 protests in downtown St. Louis.

“The Sunshine Law exists, in part, to maintain trust between the government and the people it serves,” ACLU of Missouri Legal Director Tony Rothert said. “Missouri must stop this secrecy when it comes to law enforcement-related activities.”

Despite not being a law enforcement agency or having the power or ability to make arrests, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services claimed it could not release the lab results because they were part of an ongoing criminal investigation.

The St. Louis County Police Department sent the department of health the “unknown chemicals” in a bottle labeled “apple cider vinegar” after they confiscated it from people at a protest on September 17, 2017. In October 2017, the St. Louis County Police Department tweeted, “After a false-positive test in the field, lab results indicate, it’s most likely apple cider vinegar.”

The ACLU requested copies of lab test results relating to “any liquid alleged to have been thrown at police during protests” in November 2017. The state refused to release the records.

It is not uncommon to see apple cider vinegar at a protest, where it is used to lessen the pain of tear gas.

“We are pleased to see government accountability and transparency win,” said ACLU of Missouri Executive Director Jeffrey Mittman. “We hope this ruling makes state agencies think twice about deliberately denying the public its right to know.”

Read the decision here.