An attorney for the so-called “Medicaid 23” says his clients will appeal their convictions on trespassing charges, even though they face no jail time.
A Cole County, Missouri, jury on Wednesday acquitted 22 clergy members of obstructing government operations but found them guilty of trespassing when they refused to leave the Missouri Senate gallery during a protest in May 2014. The case of the 23rd defendant will be decided later.
Along with scores of others, the clergy members – most of them African-American ministers from Kansas City – were protesting Missouri lawmakers’ refusal to expand Medicaid.
The jury recommended no jail time but the judge can still fine each of them up to $500.
Fine or no fine, their attorney, Nimrod Chapel Jr., said on Thursday they will appeal.
“The message that the prosecutor, Mark Richardson, intended to convey was that you can't have and I quote, ‘These people comin' to our town.’ And he also talked about what are our kids going to see when they go up to the Capitol. I think that is the intent, to prevent free speech, and to do it in a way that's inappropriate,” Chapel said in a phone interview.
He also noted that none of the witnesses in the trial could connect any of the protesters to the crime.
“They were not able to identify a single one,” he said, referring to the Capitol police. “Not even the officer that wrote out the probable cause statement.”
The Rev. Wallace Hartsfield II, who helped organize the protest and whose father was one of the defendants, said it was “quite interesting that you would have a prosecutor so bent on making an example of persons, and not just clergy, trying to speak for those who don’t have access to health care.
“We’re nowhere near where we need to be,” Hartsfield, pastor of Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church, said in a phone interview. He said there will be more protests until the Missouri legislature agrees to expand Medicaid eligibility.
Expansion would extend health insurance coverage to approximately 300,000 low-income Missourians. Currently, only parents with dependent children whose incomes don’t exceed 18 percent of the federal poverty level are eligible for Medicaid in the state. Adults without children are not eligible at all.
Dan Margolies, editor of the Heartland Health Monitor team, is based at KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies.