Missouri Supreme Court hears arguments in case involving Moniteau County prosecutor

The Missouri Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday in a case involving Moniteau County Prosecutor Shayne Healea, who backed into a Columbia restaurant in 2014. (File)

A video recording of Shayne Healea's phone conversation with his attorney the night of his arrest dominated oral arguments in front of the Missouri Supreme Court Tuesday.

Judges heard the arguments as they consider whether the Columbia Police Department or the state attorney general's office violated Healea's constitutional rights by having a copy of the recording of the privileged communication. Shane Farrow represented Moniteau County Prosecutor Shayne Healea while John Sauer represented the Missouri Attorney General's Office in the arguments. Judges will also consider whether members of the attorney general's office should prosecute the case.

The recording in question was taken the night Healea was accused of backing his car into a downtown Columbia restaurant, injuring four people in October of 2014.

Farrow argued the attorney general's office had a copy of the recording for two years until he and his client relayed a memo to the courts with their concerns in 2016. Farrow acknowledged he and his client also had a copy of the recording since 2014, but had not seen it until 2016.

"I don't think it factors in because the concern we're dealing with is the appearance of impropriety," Farrow told the judges. "The impropriety is that these privileged communications were recorded and then forwarded on."

Farrow said investigators with the police department spoke to members of the attorney general's office in preparation of the case and indictment. "Those officers, some of them have looked at this video," Farrow said. "It didn't reproduce itself, it didn't send itself to prosecutors."

"The issue exists with the Columbia Police Department, that's where it starts," Farrow told judges. "Everyone who has seen it needs to be excluded," Farrow said, noting the trial court took no action on this.

Sauer told judges no member of the attorney general's office had seen the recording. He noted the Special Master's report found the recording includes no mention of trial strategy.

Sauer said he thinks Healea and his attorney are attempting to pull the mistakes made at the Columbia Police Department and impute them to the attorney general's office. Sauer noted the courts look at the conduct of the attorneys in the case.

Sauer said the attorney general's office should not be disqualified. He said the attorney general's office's conduct does not fall within the three factors for disqualification: Whether the prosecutor knew or should've known they were intruding on privileged communication, whether they have knowledge of the privileged communication and whether the communication include trial strategy.

"Here where there's no evidence, no reason to believe that any prosecutor in the attorney generals has ever had actual access to this, I don't think the court should conclude there's an appearance of impropriety," Sauer said.

Sauer noted an evidence custodian and records custodian with the department testified in court. Neither said they had knowledge of the recording but said there was another member of the department who might have knowledge of how it works. Sauer said Farrow did not follow up. Farrow said no names were ever identified to him. He said a member of the department said in his testimony an administrative assistant to the police chief may have knowledge of the recording.

"There's a lot on the record here showing that the attorney general acted reasonably, properly, they did their best to quarantine the situation and present to the appropriate authorities," Sauer said.

Tuesday was Healea's first court appearance on the the felony case in nearly a year. Higher courts intervened in the case after a circuit judge, Frederick Tucker, chose to move forward with the case with few changes regardless of the concerns. Tucker appointed a Special Master to the case to investigate the recording.

Farrow told judges he sought remedies including the exclusion of blood evidence, the disqualification of the attorney general's office from the case, the purging of the police department's servers of the recording, and the dismissal of charges. Ultimately, Tucker ruled to suppress evidence of Healea refusing to take a breath test, "but rejected everything else," Farrow said.

It could take the Supreme Court weeks, even months before deciding how this case should move forward.

Deputy Chief Jill Schlude gave KRCG 13 the following statement:

"[S]ince this case is still pending, the Police Department cannot make any comments."

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