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New St. Louis County Prosecutor Plans To Decriminalize Child Support Delinquency

St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell wants to decriminalize the failure to pay child support.

Clayton, MO – A controversial change by the new St. Louis County prosecutor would decriminalize not paying child support and could directly benefit one of his new appointees.

St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell announced Friday that his office was moving toward prosecuting child support cases as civil matters, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

The change would mean delinquent parents would no longer face criminal charges for failure to pay child support.

The St. Louis County Police Association put out a memo on Friday in response to the new prosecutor’s latest proposed changes.

“The decriminalization of the failure to pay child support puts livelihoods of hardworking single parents in jeopardy,” Joe Patterson, the police association’s president, said in a statement posted to their official Facebook page.

Bell told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that jailing the parent doesn’t accomplish the end goal of feeding and supporting his or her family.

“When you have two people applying for a job who are similarly situated, and one has a felony conviction even if it’s just for child support, we’d be lying if we said that didn’t hurt people’s chances of being successful at getting a job,” he said. “And most people I talk to, single moms or single dads, they just want the support for their family.”

He said it doesn’t help the custodial parent when the court locks up the delinquent parent.

“They don’t want the noncustodial parent to go to jail. They just want the support. And right now, their opportunities are limited, which will not only hurt them, but also hurt the family because that person’s job earning capacity is limited,” Bell explained.

But critics of the proposed change are questioning the motive behind the change, and have pointed to Bell’s newly appointed newly-appointing director of operations, Tim Swope.

Swope could be directly affected by his boss’s initiative because he is currently making court-ordered payments to his ex-wife for the support of their three children.

The former chief of the North County Police Cooperative reached a settlement with his ex-wife to pay $500 a month toward the unpaid support balance, and currently owes about $18,000, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

Bell disputed that assertion and said he had not known of Swope’s child support situation before Jan. 4, and said that the knowledge hadn’t changed his stance on the matter.

“My positions on child support were consistent before Mr. Swope was involved in the campaign,” he said. “He and his ex-wife had a civil matter that was handled in civil court, and he is in compliance with that.”

Despite the new information, Bell has continued to support Swope.

“Once they violate the law or a court order, that’s different, but that’s not the situation he’s in,” Bell told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “It’s been handled. His kids have lived with him for the last eight years, and for someone like him who risked his life for St. Louis County residents, I’m proud to have him in the office.”

Swope recently left the North County Police Cooperative under a cloud, but the exact reason for his departure was not made public.

He resigned suddenly in September of 2018 after being abruptly suspended and placed on unpaid leave, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

Tom Gantert - January Sun, 2019

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