ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — The St. Louis County Prosecutor Attorney’s office has reversed course and is asking for the suspect, accused of spray-painting a racist message at Washington University, to be jailed as he awaits trial.
For prosecutors, this case of Mitchell Wagner, 24, of Florissant, has walked the line between free speech and hate crime.
The prosecutor’s office has now filed a motion in St. Louis County Court for Wagner’s arrest and a $75,000 cash-only bond.
Wagner was charged with felony property damage in March for allegedly spray-painting the name of the white nationalist group, “Patriot Front”, on a black history mural at Wash. U.
At that time, prosecutors gave him a summons to appear in court instead of having him booked in jail because of a policy to lock fewer people up and of a legal technicality.
“Although the organization, whose logo he spray-painted on the black history mural is a white nationalist organization, which (puts us) in the category of hate crimes,” said Chris King, spokesman for the St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney’s office. “The Missouri criminal statute for hate crimes says the race of the victim must be a determining factor in the commission of a crime. Washington University doesn’t have a ‘race’ so there’s no way to charge that as a hate crime.”
Wagner was one of 31 “Patriot Front” members arrested in Idaho and charged with conspiracy to riot at an LGBTQ “Pride” event. Prosecutors say that changes everything in St. Louis County, even though the Idaho charge is a misdemeanor, and Wagner was quickly released there.
“This shows escalation of his activism,” King said. “This does move him into a category of someone we believe the safety of the public would be better protected if he waited out his legal proceedings in jail.”
Wagner’s attorney, Michael Kielty, is fighting against the arrest/bond motion. He said the alleged offenses are non-violent. The evidence is weak, and Wagner has no prior criminal history.
Keilty said he stands by what he told Fox 2 News about the “Patriot Front” Idaho arrests earlier in June.
“They have a viewpoint that you disagree with. I disagree with but as a criminal defense attorney we have a constitution,” Kielty said. “The first amendment is here for reason. It’s for speech even if we don’t like (that speech).”
Despite the new urgency from the St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, Wagner remains free and he is waiting for a judge to be assigned in the St. Louis County case.