- Associated Press - Thursday, May 28, 2015

ST. LOUIS (AP) - A federal lawsuit seeking class-action status accuses a St. Louis suburb of often violating the rights of the poor by jailing them because they can’t pay small amounts of bond money.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday in St. Louis against 13,000-resident St. Ann alleges that people unable to come up with bail amounts ranging from $150 to $350 frequently have to spend at least three days and frequently a week in jail, constituting a “post-arrest, money-based detention scheme.”

“The city’s policy has no place in modern American law,” according to the lawsuit pressed by St. Louis-based ArchCity Defenders and Washington-based Equal Justice Under Law on behalf of Kellen Powell, a 33-year-old homeless man arrested May 21 after a suspected traffic stop.

The lawsuit claims that St. Ann does not release people on their own recognizance or with an unsecured bond. Powell, an indigent man whose part-time job pays him less than $300 a week, has been jailed since his arrest because he has been unable “to buy his freedom” by posting $300 cash bond, according to the lawsuit.

A message seeking comment was left Thursday with St. Ann’s city administrator, Matt Conley.

Municipal courts in portions of the St. Louis area have come under increasing scrutiny since a Justice Department investigation that followed last summer’s police shooting death of Michael Brown in nearby Ferguson concluded that the municipal court system in that largely black suburb was driven by profit - often at the expense of minorities.

Wednesday’s lawsuit alleges that St. Ann, where 70 percent of the residents are white, filed more than 28,000 municipal ordinance violations in 2013 and had more than 14,000 outstanding warrants as of last September - or roughly 1.1 per resident.

The city’s municipal court produces more than $3 million from court costs and fines “as a result of this high-volume policing,” the lawsuit claims.

“Because of St. Ann’s unusual and illegal policies, it is difficult for the public to obtain accurate details concerning how many impoverished St. Ann arrestees are unable to buy their release each week,” the lawsuit alleges.

U.S. Census figures show that St. Ann’s median household income from 2009 through 2013 was $35,622, well below Missouri’s $47,380 and the national rate of $53,046.

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