The Slatest

Ferguson Official Who Makes $1,500 an Hour Via Rinky-Dink Fines Owes $170,000 in Back Taxes

Protesters outside a municipal court in St. Louis County.

Michael B. Thomas/Getty

This week the Department of Justice released a highly critical report about Ferguson, Missouri’s criminal justice system, accusing police and officials of perpetrating a racially biased regime that, among other issues, imposes abusive, excessive punishments and fines for trifling violations like jaywalking. The DOJ report was foreshadowed in September 2014 by Washington Post writer Radley Balko’s shocking investigation of the St. Louis County municipal court system, which seems to be a shakedown racket aimed at enriching everyone involved at the expense of regular citizens. Balko highlighted an individual named Ronald Brockmeyer who has made a lucrative living in the traffic-ticket game:

According to a recent white paper published by the ArchCity Defenders, the chief prosecutor in Florissant Municipal Court makes $56,060 per year. It’s a position that requires him to work 12 court sessions per year, at about three hours per session. The Florissant prosecutor is Ronald Brockmeyer, who also has a criminal defense practice in St. Charles County, and who is also the chief municipal prosecutor for the towns of Vinita Park and Dellwood. He is also the judge—yes, the judge—in both Ferguson and Breckenridge Hills.

(As I wrote at the time, Brockmeyer’s compensation as a prosecutor works out to about $1,500 an hour, which is what you’d make if you worked 40 hours a week at a salary of $3 million per year.) 

As it happens, Brockmeyer is now back in the news thanks to the DOJ report, which criticized his work in Ferguson—and thanks to the Guardian, which reveals that Brockmeyer, who, again, makes his living by harshly enforcing the most trivial civic rules, owes the United States government some $170,000 in unpaid taxes.

Ronald J Brockmeyer, whose court allegedly jailed impoverished defendants unable to pay fines of a few hundred dollars, has a string of outstanding debts to the US government dating back to 2007, according to tax filings obtained by the Guardian from authorities in Missouri.

While Brockmeyer owes the US government $172,646 in taxes, his court in Ferguson is at the centre of a class-action federal lawsuit that alleges Ferguson repeatedly “imprisoned a human being solely because the person could not afford to make a monetary payment”.

That last sentence apparently refers to an accusation made by a man named Roelif Carter:

One of the plaintiffs – Roelif Carter, a 62-year-old disabled military veteran – alleges he was arrested and jailed for three days in Ferguson in 2010 after trying to pay the $100 monthly instalment for his outstanding traffic fines on the second day of the month rather than the first, when it was due. While living in “constant fear” he was arrested and jailed three more times in the following years when he was unable to pay the monthly charge, the lawsuit alleges.

Goddangit, America.