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Couple accuse police of botching investigation

LEADWOOD — Two citizens complained about police during the public session of Monday night’s Leadwood Board of Aldermen meeting and another sent his lawyer to ask that his complaints be heard fairly by the board.

In a discussion that at times grew loud and went much longer than the allotted five minutes, a couple accused police of botching an investigation of the theft of their car and a separate incident involving damage to their property.

According to Kenny and Bobbie Meinershagen, their Mustang was stolen between the hours of 1:30 a.m. and 3:30 a.m. early one morning. They called Leadwood police. At 6 a.m., Kenny Meinershagen went to Desloge Walmart to buy a new lock for their door, because the house key was in the console of the car. Meinershagen saw two people in his stolen car and forced them to stop. He told the man and boy in the car to get out and he called Desloge police, who called Leadwood Detective Reggie Jaco.

Jaco told the officers to hold the two and he would come to pick them up.

“By the time I got back to Leadwood, the driver was already out, walking the streets,” Meinershagen said. “All he got was a ticket.”

He added that he had called the police department several times and had asked Jaco to call him. The detective never did, he said. Meinershagen said he called the police department and asked that someone come take his report. No one ever took his report.

“I thought an investigator was supposed to investigate,” he said. “Shouldn’t an investigator have talked to the person whose car was stolen and who caught the guys who took it?”

Bobbie Meinershagen said the driver should have been charged with stealing the car or with tampering by Leadwood and should go to jail, not just get a ticket.

“If you don’t come to a complete stop at a stop sign, you get a ticket,” she said. “How do you get caught driving a stolen car and not get arrested? This doesn’t reflect well on our community.”

She added that the thieves wrecked the car, which cost $400 to fix. There had been a ball bag with $600 in equipment that was missing.

This was the second time the couple was upset with the way police handled a crime in which they were victims, Bobbie Meinershagen said. About a year ago, a woman who she said was obviously drunk crashed her truck into the couple’s chain link fence about 2 a.m. The couple asked that the truck be left there until daylight because the chain link was caught on the axle and they wanted to remove the fence first to avoid further damage. Instead, the truck was towed before dawn.

“She got a ticket for property damage, and although we were told she would pay us damages, we haven’t received one cent,” she told the board. “She had a minor in the car with her, but she wasn’t charged with driving drunk. Maybe if she had, she wouldn’t have hit (another citizen’s) car a week later.”

City Clerk Deb Bevington explained that the woman is making payments on her fine and restitution. The Meinershagens will receive a check once the entire amount is paid.

Alderman Kenneth Crick asked Jaco and Leadwood Police Chief Jerry Hicks Sr. to explain what had happened. Jaco said the driver was being charged by Desloge, since that is the jurisdiction in which he was found with the stolen car.

Because two witnesses had stated that the juvenile had stolen the car, he had been referred to juvenile court. Hicks said the youth was serving eight months in a juvenile detention center.

Jaco said he had called the Meinershagens, but did not get an answer.

As the couple left the meeting, Bobbie Meinershagen told the board that police handling of the two issues had cost the couple nearly $1,000.

“I’m thinking about putting up a sign in front of my house that says, “For Sale Because of Stupid Police,” she said.

Mayor Dennis Bayless replied, “No one will want to buy it then.”

After the couple had left the meeting, Jaco explained that the investigation showed that there were two juveniles and one adult involved in the theft. The juvenile who stole the vehicle took it to his home in the county, where he bottomed out the car and damaged it. The second juvenile left before the other two went to McDonald’s in Desloge and were caught, he said.

Action is pending against the other juvenile, Jaco said.

Hicks added that he had explained the restitution policy to the couple. He said he was frustrated that he had asked for an appraisal of the damage to the car and did not receive it until three-and-a-half weeks later.

Also in public session, Attorney David Orzel discussed complaints by his clients — the Queen family — that they are being harassed by neighbors and that the board of aldermen dismisses any complaints they raise about that harassment.

Orzel said that one neighbor has landscaped the yard so that water runoff is directed into the Queens’ house and chicken coop. Another neighbor has obstructed an unimproved road that serves as the Queens’ access to one section of their property. The EPA has said that another neighbor has sewage leaking from the property, Orzel said.

Crick said the Queens are the ones who are doing the harassing, and that the water problem was caused by heavy rains, not runoff from the neighbor’s landscaping. Alderman Don Eaton said the other neighbors, who had been tying their dog in the middle of the unimproved road moved the dog several weeks ago to the other side of their home.

“My client feels that anytime he comes to the board for help, his complaint is just dismissed because ‘it’s just the Queens again,’” Orzel said. “I want you to do for my client what you do for every other citizen.”

Mayor Dennis Bayless said he would try to get a ditch dug to alleviate the water problem.

In other business, the board agreed to consider passing an ordinance to require residents to install a shutoff valve where water lines enter their home. The city does not have manpower and funds to continually shut off and turn on water for residents who want to change a faucet or make other repairs that require shutting the water off first. The board also will consider establishing a fine for people who refuse to install a shutoff valve and call the city to temporarily shut water off to their property.

The board approved a request by Steve Serini to erect a fence to connect his side fences and agreed to allow the city to shut water off at a future date to fix a leaking fire hydrant. The city will give residents a 24-hour notice of the shutoff, and a boil order that will follow until two water samples show the water is safe to drink.

Paula Barr is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-431-2010, ext. 172 or at pbarr@dailyjournalonline.com.

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