JEFFERSON CITY, Missouri — The first opportunity for Missouri lawmakers to propose legislation for the new session brought a wave of bills addressing police brutality, use of deadly force and equipping officers with cameras — measures spurred by the fatal shooting of a black 18-year-old by a white officer in Ferguson.
Monday marked the first day lawmakers could officially pre-file legislation for the session that begins in January. At least six members so far have drafted legislation addressing police shootings or other conflicts brought to public attention after Michael Brown's death in August.
Several measures would require police to wear audio and video recorders to capture interactions with civilians.
President Barack Obama on Monday also called for more local police agencies to use body cameras and vowed to push for $75 million to help pay for 50,000 of the small, lapel-mounted cameras to record police on the job, with state and local governments paying half the cost.
State Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, a University City Democrat who also represents the Ferguson area, drafted a wide-ranging bill that included protections for protesters.
The senator was among those tear-gassed during protests after Officer Darren Wilson shot Brown. Those protests turned violent at times, but Chappelle-Nadal and others have criticized some police as "overzealous" in their response.
Her bill would allow police to use tear gas during protests only when the governor declares a state of emergency, as he did during initial demonstrations in August and again in anticipation of a grand jury's decision on whether to indict Wilson. Even then, police couldn't use the chemical unless the governor partnered with an independent, human-rights group that agrees using tear gas wouldn't violate protesters' rights.
Officers couldn't "verbally abuse" protesters, would be required to wear a visible name tag and could not "hog tie" a protester's hands and feet together.
Chappelle-Nadal's bill also includes a provision that would tighten Missouri laws allowing officers to use deadly force.
Currently, police can shoot to kill if they reasonably believe a suspect has committed or attempted to commit a felony or if they are attempting to escape with a deadly weapon. Chappelle-Nadal's bill is one of several that would only allow deadly force if the suspect poses a danger to others, which already is allowed.
Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, a St. Louis Democrat, filed a similar bill that would ban officers from shooting if an unarmed suspect is 20 feet or more away. Those who violate the law would be suspended without pay pending an investigation.
Other measures aim to tackle how police shootings are handled in court.
Chappelle-Nadal's bill also would require a special prosecutor to investigate deadly police shootings, another proposal on the table for multiple lawmakers.
A special prosecutor was not used in Brown's shooting; St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch instead relied on staff to present the case to a grand jury. Chappelle-Nadal said that frustrated some people, who questioned whether a prosecutor who regularly works with police can fairly handle a police shooting.
Legislation by Nasheed would require two investigators not employed by an accused officer's agency to review a fatal police shooting if requested by the attorney general.
Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, said he intends on filing a similar bill in the House.
He said state law needs to be changed to eliminate any appearance of a conflict of interest and to prevent shattering relationships prosecutors currently have with police.
"I'm not filing this bill because of racial tensions or anything other than an opportunity to improve confidence in the criminal justice system," Barnes said. "This sort of change would make sense regardless of what is happening in Ferguson."
Other bills pre-filed Monday included proposals for diversity training and regular psychological evaluations for police.
Follow Summer Ballentine at: https://www.twitter.com/esballentine .
All content copyright ©2014 Daily Journal, a division of Home News Enterprises unless otherwise noted.