St. Louis County destroys 250 boxes of animal records after cockroach infestation
OLIVETTE — The St. Louis County Animal Control Department destroyed about 20,000 books of paper records without proper authorization after cockroaches and mice infested the records, county public health officials said Monday.
The destruction comes as the county faces three lawsuits and open case requests related to its animal shelter. Some of the records sought in those lawsuits have been destroyed, said Mark Pedroli, an attorney who sued the county and its animal control department on behalf of two clients.
“That never happened,” Pedroli said. “I’ve never seen someone destroy 20,000 books of documents in the middle of litigation.”
County officials said no one realized cockroaches and mice infested about 400 cardboard boxes in an animal shelter storage room around 1968 near North Lindbergh and Baur Boulevards. About 250 have already been destroyed.
People also read…
The problem was discovered at the end of September. The Missouri Animal Welfare Association, the nonprofit that takes over the management of the animal shelter, has started sorting through the boxes, said Christopher Ave, spokesman for the health department.
Personnel records, vaccination records, case investigation reports, kennel reports and performance appraisals dating from the 1980s to this year were destroyed, according to an Oct. 7 letter from an official at compliance of county records to county council members.
The nonprofit and the county each brought in their own pest control experts to examine the damage.
“Both said the same thing,” Ave said, “That thing needed to be cleaned up immediately.”
Animal Control notified the acting co-director of public health, Kate Donaldson, of the issue.
Donaldson visited the building Oct. 3 with public health staff and “immediately began the process of reviewing records and the retention schedule,” Ave said. The county is required to keep the records for a certain period of time depending on the type of document, according to the county ordinance.
The infestation was so severe that Donaldson, a longtime public health staff member, immediately ordered that records that had satisfied their retention be destroyed because they posed a health hazard, Ave said.
But Donaldson was unaware that the county council had to approve the destruction of the records, Ave said. Approval for the destruction of old records is routine at weekly board meetings.
Donaldson was unavailable for comment on Monday.
Did the county break any laws?
State law says that if a lawsuit is pending and someone has requested tapes as part of that action, the tapes must not be destroyed, attorney Jean Maneke told the Missouri Press. Missouri Open Records Law Association and Expert.
Pedroli, the attorney, said he was looking for rabies records that were destroyed as part of his client’s whistleblower trial. Mandy Ryan, who worked as the county’s animal population manager from December 2019 to December 2020, claimed in her complaint, among other things, that St. Louis County veterinarians complained about not receiving tags. rabies from animal control.
Rabies records from 2004 through 2018 and 2020 through 2022 were destroyed, according to the letter from the county records compliance officer.
In another lawsuit, Webster Groves resident Erin Bulfin sued the county after animal control euthanized her family’s dog, Daisy. The dog had bitten Bulfin’s daughter and the family complied with the county order by then taking Daisy to animal control to quarantine her. The family told animal control they did not want Daisy euthanized, according to the lawsuit.
St. Louis County tried to vet the information Bulfin shared about the case, asking a judge to issue a gag order, Pedroli said. The judge rejected this request, first reported by the television channel KSDK (Channel 5). Animal ingestion records are relevant to this case, Pedroli said — but the county’s letter says admission cards from 1987 to 2020 were also destroyed.
“Why couldn’t they just decontaminate?” Pedroli asked. “Why didn’t they just move them?”
“I’m just tearing my hair out.”
St. Louis County Executive Sam Page defended the decision, saying animal control had no choice but to start killing unadoptable dogs.