Parson orders state agency not to pay legal expenses for legislators facing defamation suit

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson (Photo by Annelise Hanshaw - Missouri Independent).
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(Missouri Independent) – Missouri taxpayers will not cover the costs of damages that may result from defamation lawsuits filed against three state senators who incorrectly identified a Kansas man as the shooter at the Chiefs’ Super Bowl parade, Gov. Mike Parson said Monday.

In a letter to the commissioner of the Office of Administration, the state agency that certifies payments from Missouri’s legal expense fund, Parson wrote that no payments related to the lawsuits should be certified “without my approval or a court order.”

“I cannot justify money spent in this way,” Parson wrote.

A spokesman for the Office of Administration said the agency will “comply with the governor’s directive and Missouri law.”

Last month, Denton Loudermill filed a federal lawsuit against GOP state Sens. Rick Brattin, Denny Hoskins and Nick Schroer over posts they made on social media accusing him of being an undocumented immigrant and the shooter at the Kansas City Chiefs victory parade. 

Loudermill was born in Kansas and was not involved in the shooting. 

The three senators are being represented by Attorney General Andrew Bailey, whose office argues they were acting in their official capacity when they made their posts on social media.

Parson, who appointed Bailey attorney general in 2022, decried Bailey’s decision to use taxpayer resources to defend the senators, telling reporters last week that “ you don’t get a free pass just because you’re a politician.”

In his Monday letter, Parson hammered that point home, writing that the senators “falsely accused an American citizen of a heinous act and related it to his immigration status.” 

Missourians, Parson wrote, “should not be held liable for legal expenses on judgments due to state senators falsely attacking a private citizen on social media.”

Madeline Sieren, Bailey’s spokesperson, said in an email to The Independent: “Attorney General Bailey is following the law as written. Ultimately, the court will decide this issue.”

 Andrew Bailey is announced as Gov. Mike Parson’s choice to be Missouri attorney general on Nov. 23, 2022 (photo courtesy of Missouri Governor’s Office). 

Parson’s refusal to pay any potential damages awarded to Loudermill would not be the first time the Office of Administration has blocked payment of a controversial legal expense.  

In 2018, shortly after then-Gov. Eric Greitens resigned from office, the agency refused to pay the $180,000 in fees to private attorneys who represented him during impeachment proceedings. The state argued the primary beneficiary of the lawyers’ work was Greitens individually and that the attorneys weren’t needed for the governor’s office itself.

The latest legal saga began when an anonymous account on Twitter accused Loudermill of being the shooter at the Chiefs parade and in the country illegally  That post, with a seated photo of Loudermill in handcuffs, incorrectly identified him with a name associated with misinformation posted after other shootings, including an October mass shooting in Lewiston, Maine, that left 18 dead. 

In reality, Loudermill was only detained briefly by police when violence broke out during the parade because he was too slow to leave the area.

Soon after that initial post, the Missouri Freedom Caucus, Hoskins, Brattin and Schroer posted their own versions on Twitter.

“These are 3 people arrested at the parade…at least one of those arrested is an illegal immigrant. CLOSE OUR BORDERS!” the Missouri Freedom Caucus posted. 

The post has since been deleted. The Missouri Freedom Caucus also sought to retract its mistake, linking to a KMBC post about Loudermill’s effort to clear his name.

“Denton is an Olathe native, a father of three & a proud @Chiefs fan,” the post states. “He’s not a mass shooter. Images of him being detained for being intoxicated & not moving away from the crime scene at the Chiefs rally have spread online. He just wants to clear his name.”

Hoskins’ version shared a screenshot of the initial anonymous post and blamed President Joe Biden and political leaders of Kansas City for making the shooting possible.

“Fact – President Biden’s open border policies & cities who promote themselves as Sanctuary Cities like #Kansas City invite illegal violent immigrants into the U.S.,” Hoskins posted.

That post has been deleted, but in a Feb. 14 post without a photo, Hoskins wrote that “information I’ve seen” states “at least one of the alleged shooters is an illegal immigrant and all 3 arrested are repeat violent offenders.”

Hoskins hedged it with “IF THIS IS ACCURATE” and repetition of conservative rhetoric to stop immigration and restrain cities that help immigrants, blaming crime on “catch and release policies of liberal cities.” 

Brattin’s first post linking Loudermill to the shooting, since deleted, demanded “#POTUS CLOSE THE BORDER” and incorporated the deleted anonymous post that kicked everything off.

Schroer was the least certain post about the immigration and arrest status of Loudermill among the three now being sued.

Schroer’s post included a link to one from Burchett stating, over Loudermill’s photo, that “One of the Kansas City Chiefs victory parade shooters has been identified as an illegal Alien.”

“Can we get any confirmation or denial of this from local officials or law enforcement?” Schroer wrote. “I’ve been sent videos or stills showing at least 6 different people arrested from yesterday but officially told only 3 still in custody. The people deserve answers.”

(Photo by Annelise Hanshaw – Missouri Independent)

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Jason Hancock

Jason Hancock has been writing about Missouri since 2011, most recently as lead political reporter for The Kansas City Star. He has spent nearly two decades covering politics and policy for news organizations across the Midwest and has a track record of exposing government wrongdoing and holding elected officials accountable.