Mo. jail withholds detainee’s newspaper; he sues

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

A jail detainee claims that officials with the Sainte Genevieve County (Mo.) Sheriff’s Office Detention Center violated the First Amendment by withholding his newspaper subscription after the newspaper published his letter to the editor.

Stanley A. Schell subscribed to the weekly Ste. Genevieve Herald, which he received in prison through October 2012. On Oct. 31, the newspaper printed Schell’s letter. That letter primarily asked why local religious leaders did not frequent the jail very often. However, there was also a reference to “Sheriff Gary Stolzer’s latest toy, the SafeBoat,” a police watercraft.

On Nov. 7, Schell did not receive his newspaper. When he asked why, the response was that Sheriff Stolzer believed local papers should no longer be distributed because they printed the names of local arrestees and the charges against them.

“This poses a security risk to our inmates & our facility  & are therefore no longer allowed,” an unidentified police sergeant wrote to Schell, according to court papers.

Schell unsuccessfully filed a grievance. He then filed a lawsuit in federal court in the Eastern District of Missouri, Southeastern Division.  The ACLU of Eastern Missouri is representing Schell in his lawsuit. The complaint is filed on behalf of Schell and other current and future inmates at the detention center.

The complaint in Schell v. County of Sainte Genevieve alleges the county and Stolzer violated the First Amendment by refusing to deliver newspaper subscriptions. The lawsuit contends the sheriff’s policy is not rationally related to any legitimate penological concern, such as security.

“It’s clear that the sheriff punished Mr. Schell for writing his letter by withholding the publication,” said Brenda L. Jones, executive director of the ACLU of Eastern Michigan, in a news release.

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