O’Fallon councilwoman’s ouster presents First Amendment concerns, attorney says
A councilwoman in O’Fallon, Missouri, has been impeached and removed after raising questions about the municipality’s now former police chief.
Katie Gatewood, a former law enforcement officer, had learned that the man hired as chief in 2020 had been the subject of controversy at his previous post in Conroe, Texas. According to a report by officers in the Texas Rangers, in 2017, Philip Dupuis responded to a domestic violence call that involved a fellow officer who was one of his friends. According to another officer who responded to the scene, Dupuis seemed more concerned with what would happen to his friend than about the victim.
Gatewood’s interest in determining what really happened in Conroe has now led to her ouster. Her attorney, Dave Roland of the Freedom Center of Missouri, said Gatewood made several public records requests and phone calls to learn more information about Dupuis’ actions. Her colleagues accused her of violating city ordinances by making those inquiries — and, last week, voted to impeach and remove her from office.
Those actions have Roland concerned. Gatewood, he said, merely exercised her right to free speech.
“It raises incredibly severe First Amendment consequences for the voters, as well as for the elected officials who are being threatened with removal from office,” he told St. Louis on the Air.
Roland filed a lawsuit against the city on Gatewood’s behalf three days before she was ousted by the council. In it, he argues that the council’s actions were retaliatory and that the disciplinary panel against her was biased — and that these actions violated her constitutional rights.
“They said, essentially, that it was illegal for her to ask those questions under city law,” Roland said.
U.S. District Judge Audrey Fleissig declined to intervene before the impeachment vote. But Roland is hopeful that she will now consider the matter ripe for judicial review. On Wednesday’s show, Roland said he plans to approach the federal judge with an updated complaint within a month.
As for Gatewood, her term on the council ends in a little over a year.
“We would love to see Katie restored to the council,” said Roland, “but even if she ultimately is not, we intend to get a ruling as to whether the removal was unconstitutional.”
Dupuis resigned from the chief’s job in O’Fallon last June.
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