Two female Missouri prosecutors are suspended after failing to report a suspect’s beating.
The Missouri Supreme Court indefinitely suspended Ambry Nichole Schuessler and Katherine Anne Dierdorf, two former prosecutors with the St. Louis circuit attorney’s office, for failing to immediately report a detective’s beating of suspect Michael Waller. The detective had the suspect constrained while the beating took place.
A co-worker, Bliss Worrell, reported detective Thomas Carroll, first disclosing the beating to Dierdorf in July 2014. Worrell brought a cellphone into an office where both prosecutors were and let Carroll tell his own story on speakerphone. The detective admitted to kicking the suspect, punching him in the face, hitting him in the back with a chair and sticking a gun in his mouth. Schuessler commented as he did, “I bet that’s not the first big, black thing he’s had in his mouth.”
Waller was thought to have broken into the car of Carroll’s daughter to steal her credit card. He was reportedly handcuffed during the beating. Worrell then issued false charges against the suspect to offer an explanation for his injuries, including a felony charge of fleeing custody. Worrell told Dierdorf about the false charges the next day. Dierdorf reported the false charges to Schuessler, who was in the office with another prosecutor.
The other prosecutor told Schuessler she was going to report the incident to her supervisor, and Schuessler agreed to come with her. After initial questioning, Dierdorf told Schuessler that, “I told them I don’t know anything. You don’t tell them you know anything, either.” In initial interviews, neither Dierdorf nor Schuessler were completely forthcoming.
A hearing panel had recommended reprimands for the prosecutors. However, upon closer examination of the situation, the chief disciplinary counsel said the recommendations were too lenient for what had occurred and recommended permanent suspensions.
The court’s opinion said prosecutors “are held to a higher standard given the nature of their work to protect the public. Dierdorf’s conduct undermined the public’s confidence in Missouri prosecutors, and her repeated dishonesty shows a pattern of protecting herself and her friends over the duties she assumed when she became an assistant circuit attorney.”
Carroll had denied the use of a gun during the attack and made discriminatory comments to the suspect, and the court’s opinion continued, “The violation was particularly egregious given the circumstances in which the racist and homophobic comment was made.” At the conclusion of the investigation, Carroll and Worrell both pleaded guilty. Worrell was also disbarred, while Carroll was sentenced to a year in prison. Worrell was sentenced to 18 months of probation and 140 hours of community service. Dierdorf may not apply for reinstatement to law practice for three years, and Schuessler may not apply for two years.
Michael Downey, an attorney for Dierdorf, said the suspension was “inconsistent with the facts, its own precedent, and what is appropriate to protect the public and maintain the integrity of the judicial system in this case.” Downey said Dierdorf tried to rectify “her earlier misstatements but was rebuffed by her supervisors,” and she had voluntarily handed over incriminating text messages to the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI).