Over 900 Lockdown-Violation Tipsters Learn Hard Way Reports Are Public Record
St. Louis County, MO – The names and contact information of more than 900 St. Louis County residents who tattled on non-essential businesses for staying open during the pandemic lockdown have been released to the general public, and some of the tipsters said they are afraid of retribution.
In the last week of March, St. Louis County announced they had created an online reporting system and dedicated email address for tips about businesses that were not complying with local and state shutdown orders, KSDK reported.
Many of the more than 900 tipsters that tattled to the county asked that their complaint remain anonymous because they feared backlash from neighbors and employers.
Jared Totsch obtained that list of names and contact information through a Sunshine Law request and posted the information on Facebook with an explanation of why he had done so, KSDK reported.
“Here ya go. The gallery of snitches, busybodies, and employees who rat out their own neighbors and employers over the Panic-demic,” Totsch posted to a Facebook group on April 16.
“A tiny few look like they have legit beefs. Most do not,” he continued. “But it’s all public record and you make the call. This fishing expedition by the County resulted in at least 50 local businesses being notified by letter to close down or else.”
In fact, 29 of the St. Louis County businesses that were cited in April came to the attention of the authorities via tips sent in by the community, KSDK reported.
Totsch said that what was most shocking was that the St. Louis County website for tattling actually had a disclaimer on it that warned people making reports that their information could become public if it were requested under the Missouri Sunshine Law.
“If they are worried about retaliation, they should have read the fine print which stated their tips would be open public record subject to a Sunshine request, and should not have submitted tips in that manner to begin with,” Totsch told KSDK in a written message. “I released the info in an attempt to discourage such behavior in the future.”
He said he didn’t feel badly about the tipsters who told KSDK they were afraid because they knew there would be consequences for the businesses they tattled on.
“I'd call it poetic justice, instant Karma, a dose of their own medicine,” Totsch explained. “What goes around, comes around. They are now experiencing the same pain that they themselves helped to inflict on those they filed complaints against.”
His attitude was frustrating to a woman named Patricia who was one the people Totsch doxxed with his list, KSDK reported.
“We're in a society where doing what's right doesn't always get rewarded,” Patricia said.
She told KSDK that three people in her household are at high-risk for coronavirus.
“We have to be extra careful because we don’t have the strength to fight this,” she said. “I saw a lot of businesses that were non-essential that were open and had lines outside, parking lots filled as if the order didn't matter to them. And that was kinda frustrating."
But Patricia said she would never trust the county to protect her information again, KSDK reported.
“I'm not only worried about COVID, I'm worried about someone showing up at my door, showing up at my workplace or me getting fired for doing what is right,” she said.
Patricia and numerous other tipsters requested their information be kept anonymous despite the warning on the webpage, KSDK reported.
The Sunshine Law gives the public and the media access to all public agency records with the exception of tips to municipal hotlines about abuse and wrongdoing.
But the Missouri Attorney General’s Office told the county that the coronavirus tipsters didn’t qualify as exempt, according to KSDK.
“In this particular instance, our county counselor’s office consulted with the [attorney general]’s office on releasing the list of those who had filed complaints against county businesses,” St. Louis County Executive Director of Communications Doug Moore said. “We were told all the information was public and we should not redact (except for HIPAA information). Withholding information goes against what journalists push us to be – as transparent as possible.”
The county has been struggling to comply with a consent order involving the Sunshine Law that is a holdover from violations made by the previous administration, KSDK reported.
Patricia said next time something happened, she wouldn’t be tattling on anybody.
“When there is something that happens next time, I'm not going to feel safe or protected enough to call the local authorities,” she told KSDK.