St. Louis Police Have Used StingRay Technology for Years -- They Just Won't Talk About It

Categories: Longform, Police

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Illustration by Noah McMillan MacMillan

There were some very bad vibes in downtown St. Louis on the night of October 28, 2013. The Cardinals had just lost Game 5 in the World Series, and the Rams had a pathetic showing against the Seahawks at Edward Jones Stadium. The streets were jammed bumper to bumper with disgruntled fans trying to make it home, and so Brandon Pavelich and Julia Fischer — two college friends on a kinda-sorta first date — decided to walk around a bit before attempting to leave the area.

Then they heard fast footsteps, and the next thing they knew, two men had guns pointed at their heads. They demanded money and cell phones.

Pavelich paused.

"Show him we're serious and shoot him," he remembers one of the men saying.

Instead, a gun smashed into Pavelich's face, opening a gash in his forehead and chin, and chipping a tooth. One of the men reached into Pavelich's pockets as he was reeling, and grabbed his iPhone and cash. They took Fischer's iPhone as well, and ran.

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Police Insisted Cornell McKay Was to Blame for a Robbery -- It Cost Him Nearly Three Years

Categories: Crime, Longform

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Illustration by Kelly Glueck

Cornell McKay has just been found guilty by a jury of his peers, so even though he has not yet been sentenced, the guards at the St. Louis City Justice Center are taking every precaution. The wiry 22-year-old is wearing an orange jumpsuit; his hands are cuffed behind his back.

"It's a lot of humiliation, to live in this place," McKay says. He squirms in his chair, trying to find a more comfortable position in the too-tight handcuffs. "You gotta get strip searched, you gotta be around these rapists and these murderers."

McKay's trial, a hotly contested four-day affair, centered on an armed mugging in the Central West End, a relatively simple robbery that initially didn't even make the local news. It quickly became much more than that, though, embroiling a high-profile murder case, another possible culprit and a series of questionable decisions by a St. Louis judge and prosecutors.

McKay's lawyers, who would fight for years to free him from prison, say police identified the wrong man -- and then refused to look at a mountain of evidence that would clear their client.

They dug their heels in, McKay's lawyers say, to cover up their own ineptitude. If police had pursued the case aggressively from the beginning, they argue, they could have arrested the right man, the real robber. And if they'd done that, they could have saved the life of a young woman murdered in the Central West End.

Cornell McKay, they believe, was simply collateral damage.

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A Youth Minister's Downfall Is Tearing First Christian Church of Florissant Apart

Categories: Longform

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Illustration by Jeremy Wilson

As he waits to face his victims, the former youth minister can do nothing but stare at his manacled hands. His piercing blue eyes barely move as St. Louis County Circuit Judge Robert Cohen adjudicates some half-dozen criminal cases — heroin possession, burglary, probation violations. An hour passes before Brandon Milburn's name is called.

Milburn's case is left for last. From the back of the courtroom, nineteen pairs of eyes turn to prosecutor Michael Hayes as he begins his argument for the stiffest possible sentence.

The date is March 30, 2015: two months since Milburn pleaded guilty to molesting two eleven-year-old boys; fourteen months since Milburn's arrest; ten years since Milburn first set foot in St. Louis.

"Your Honor," Hayes begins, "Mr. Milburn has plead guilty to the seven counts of statutory sodomy, first degree. These seven counts represent a pattern of abuse that took place over a period of years, from the summer of 2007 till the spring of 2009. The defendant had ingratiated himself with the victims' families and with the church that they all participated in."

And Milburn's pattern of abuse began even before that.

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Thanks to the People's Joy Parade, Cherokee Street's Cinco de Mayo Will Never Be Normal

Categories: Longform

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Micah Usher
Marchers on Cherokee Street.

People's Joy Parade
[ pē-pəlz-ˈjoi-pə-rād ]
noun

1) An improvised locomotive streetshow of art, music, dance, vehicles and costumes, hundreds of creatures deep;

2) That procession which has intersected the Cinco de Mayo festival on Cherokee Street each year since 2009, powered by love-feels and not by corporate sponsorship;

3) Any annual St. Louis parade organized by mostly white artists in a mostly black neighborhood during a Mexican festival on a street named after Native Americans

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Rev. Starsky Wilson and the Fight to Make the Ferguson Commission Matter

Categories: Longform

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Steve Truesdell
Ferguson Commission co-chair Starsky Wilson.

A petite young woman stands at the back of a convention hall in a line of people behind a microphone. Her brown hair is partially dyed red, an artistic touch that contrasts with the McDonald's uniform she wears for her semi-regular five-hour shifts.

She approaches the podium and faces the members of the Ferguson Commission, the sixteen-member body tasked by Missouri governor Jay Nixon with confronting the St. Louis region's most intractable social and economic problems in the aftermath of the killing of Michael Brown. It's a Monday night in February, and in the large college conference hall, about 100 people stare at her back. A few scribble notes on legal pads.

"My name is Danielle Polk...I'm one of your young ladies that works at the Ferguson McDonald's in the middle of Ferguson on West Florissant," she says. "I was actually one of the individuals that was affected when the Mike Brown incident," her voice breaks, "happened."

She continues, but the words begin to tumble over each other.

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How My Invisible Boyfriend Became My Real-Life Crush

Categories: Longform

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Kevin Cannon
"Say something nice to me?"

I was sitting in a storage closet when I hit "send" on that text. The closet is in a back corner of my office building, and I was trying to ward off the panic that was welling inside of me. I'd turned the lights off, not because I was worried someone would find me, but because I was completely overwrought.

Writer's block is a luxury I can't afford as a full-time news blogger, and I had just three hours to finish two important stories I'd barely started. With deadlines looming, I retreated to the closet and turned to my phone.

I'd recently met someone. His name was Alex Arobin, and he was a hunky, flirtatious 29-year-old P.E. teacher from New Orleans. Even though we'd only known each other for a few weeks, I knew he could help calm me down long enough to finish my drafts.

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After Years in Prison, Angel Stewart and Other Victims of Violence Ask for Mercy

Categories: Longform

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Illustration by Louisa Bertman

Angel Charlene Stewart stands at the guard station in the visiting room of the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women, twisting a lanyard around her fingers. She's anxious. She just found out she's got unexpected visitors in the lobby. "Lawyers from Missouri" is all the male guard tells her.

When the heavy electronic doors from the waiting room slide open, she sees three people -- the members of the Women Initiate Legal Lifelines to Other Women, or WILLOW Project, who've just made the five-hour drive from St. Louis to the prison in Mitchellville, Iowa. Even though Anne Geraghty-Rathert, the attorney who founded the project, has been representing Stewart for four years, Stewart hadn't automatically assumed it would be her.

"He didn't say, 'Your lawyers,' he said, 'Lawyers are here from Missouri,'" Stewart says, once they're all seated around a table in a private room. "I said, 'I'm passing out right now.'"

Stewart is terrified of Missouri.

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Drowning of Handcuffed Suspect Still Baffles Family, Friends and Witnesses

Categories: Longform

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Courtesy Brody Baumann
Brandon Ellingson and Brody Baumann at the lake in 2012.
Larry Moreau and his family were cruising the Lake of the Ozarks on a sunny Saturday last May when they noticed a Missouri Highway Patrol boat race past them. Moreau, an engineer from nearby Jefferson City, recalls looking down at the speedometer on his boat and seeing that it read 32 mph. The patrol boat, containing a trooper and another man standing next to each other, was traveling much faster than that.

A few moments later the patrol boat came into view again. This time it was stopped in the middle of the lake's main channel. In front of the boat, a few hundred feet away, was something else.

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Ideological Differences Spark Controversy Inside Missouri's Marijuana Movement

Categories: Longform

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Courtesy Keith Stroup
NORML founder Keith Stroup disbanded the organization's Kansas City chapter last month after investigating complaints.
November 5 marked a milestone for the marijuana-reform organization Show-Me Cannabis. In the months leading up to that date the group had busied itself meeting with attorneys, conducting polls and closely monitoring legalization efforts in other states. Now, a day after the mid-term elections, Show-Me Cannabis was ready to formally submit its proposed constitutional amendment allowing the sale, taxation and regulation of marijuana in Missouri for those over the age of 21.

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Meet the Ex-Pitcher Whose Fair-Pay Lawsuit Has Major League Baseball on the Defensive

Categories: Longform
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Steve Truesdell
Garrett Broshuis earned less than minimum wage in his six years in the minors. Now the recent law school grad has has filed a first-of-its-kind lawsuit accusing Major League Baseball of violating federal wage laws.
Garrett Broshuis remembers heading from the diamond to the locker room back in April 2009 when his coach called him into the office. Broshuis' knees seemed to register the significance of the invite as quickly as his brain, causing the six-foot-two-inch pitcher to wobble awkwardly. In five years playing for the San Francisco Giants farm system, Broshuis knew it was never a good thing to be called into the coach's office, especially on the last day of spring training.

"I was basically told that I didn't have a future in the Giants organization," recalls the ex-athlete, who, as a pitcher for the University of Missouri-Columbia Tigers, went 11-0 his senior year, tying a school record. But the Giants didn't completely sever ties with Broshuis that day. Instead the organization gave him the option to ride out the season as a "filler," a sparring partner of sorts for guys who — unlike him — might actually have a shot at the bigs.

Broshuis decided to play on. For one, he wasn't quite ready to give up the dream he'd held since his days as a Little League star back in the small, southeastern Missouri town of Advance. Also, he needed his minor-league paycheck, even if what he earned was a pittance.

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