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Missouri senators’ immunity claims challenged in Chiefs parade shooting defamation suit

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Missouri senators’ immunity claims challenged in Chiefs parade shooting defamation suit

Jun 12, 2024 | 3:45 pm ET
By Rudi Keller
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Missouri senators’ immunity claims challenged in Chiefs parade shooting defamation suit
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Sen. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville, speaks during a Freedom Caucus news conference in January, accompanied by, from left, Sens. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, Nick Schroer, R-Defiance, Jill Carter, R-Granby, and Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester. Brattin, Hoskins and Schroer are being sued for defamation over social media posts after the Chiefs’ victory parade shooting. (Annelise Hanshaw/Missouri Independent)

The Kansas man suing three Missouri lawmakers for defamation is challenging their assertions that their statements accusing him of being involved in the shooting at the Kansas City Chiefs’ Super Bowl celebration were made in the course of official business.

In filings Monday in the federal lawsuits Denton Loudermill is pursuing against the three state senators, his attorneys demand a chance to test those assertions. Loudermill’s attorneys – Arthur Benson, LaRonna Lassiter Saunders and Katrina Robertson – filed three almost identical responses Monday to the motions for dismissal by state Sens. Nick Schroer, Rick Brattin and Denny Hoskins.

The three senators are being represented by Attorney General Andrew Bailey and their filings have claimed legislative immunity for their social media posts and that the Kansas federal court where the case was filed has no jurisdiction over them.

“Defendant’s assertion of immunity depends on a facts not conceded by plaintiff: whether or not Defendant was engaged in ‘legitimate legislative activity,’” Loudermill’s attorneys wrote in a response to Schroer’s motion to dismiss the case. “And that factual contention involves issues of whether or not defendant was formulating, making, determining, creating or opposing legislative policy.”

The filings demand a chance to conduct an investigation of the immunity claim if the case cannot move forward without a determination.

No hearings have been scheduled in the case.

Loudermill was detained briefly by law enforcement after gunfire erupted near Union Station in Kansas City as the Super Bowl celebration was ending.

The violence, tied to a dispute among the partiers, led to the death of Lisa Lopez-Galvan and left 22 others injured. Three men, none of whom is an immigrant, face state murder charges for their role in the shootings and three others face federal firearms charges for selling guns involved in the shootings.

Missouri senators’ immunity claims challenged in Chiefs parade shooting defamation suit
Denton Loudermill of Olathe, Kansas, who was falsely named by conservatives on social media as a shooter at the Kansas City Chiefs victory celebration (Submitted photo).

Loudermill, who was born in Kansas, was detained briefly because he was too slow to leave the area of the shooting, he told The Independent in an interview earlier this year

He was photographed with his hands behind his back, sitting on a curb. An account on X, formally known as Twitter, with the name Deep Truth Intel used the photo and labeled Loudermill an “illegal immigrant” under arrest as the shooter.

It then showed up in posts from the Missouri Freedom Caucus, the group of six Republican state senators who battled with the Senate’s GOP leadership. The post was deleted and replaced with one that affirmatively stated he had nothing to do with the shootings.

Brattin, Hoskins and Schroer, as well as U.S. Rep. Tim Burchett, a Tennessee Republican, also spread the incorrect information on social media, including the Deep Truth Intel post or a similar post with Loudermill’s photo.

Burchett is also being sued by Loudermill and is challenging the jurisdiction in the federal court in Kansas. Burchett is not claiming any form of official immunity for his post.

In the filings written by assistant attorney general Jeremiah Morgan, Brattin, Hoskins and Schroer have sought to tie their statements to their official duties.

Brattin’s first post linking Loudermill to the shooting, since deleted, demanded “#POTUS CLOSE THE BORDER” and incorporated the deleted Deep Truth Intel post.

That is a policy statement by an elected official, Morgan wrote about Brattin’s post.

“Defendant’s statement, directed at the President of the United States, was a statement on border security at the southern border—an issue of clear national and political importance,” he wrote.

Hoskins’ version on X shared a screenshot of the Deep Truth Intel post and blamed President Joe Biden and political leaders of Kansas City for making the shooting possible.

“Fact – President Biden’s open border policies & cities who promote themselves as Sanctuary Cities like #Kansas City invite illegal violent immigrants into the U.S.,” Hoskins posted.

That post has been deleted, but in a Feb. 14 post without a photo, Hoskins wrote that “information I’ve seen” states “at least one of the alleged shooters is an illegal immigrant and all 3 arrested are repeat violent offenders.”

Hoskins hedged it with “IF THIS IS ACCURATE” and repetition of conservative rhetoric to stop immigration and restrain cities that help immigrants, blaming crime on “catch and release policies of liberal cities.” 

Morgan’s defense of that statement is almost identical to the one raised for Brattin’s post.

“Defendant’s statement, directed at the President of the United States, was a statement on policies related to border security and the rights of citizens protected under the Second Amendment—issues of clear national and political importance and salience,” the filing states.

Schroer was the least certain post about the immigration and arrest status of Loudermill among the three now being sued.

Schroer’s post included a link to one from Burchett stating, over Loudermill’s photo, that “One of the Kansas City Chiefs victory parade shooters has been identified as an illegal Alien.”

“Can we get any confirmation or denial of this from local officials or law enforcement?” Schroer wrote on X. “I’ve been sent videos or stills showing at least 6 different people arrested from yesterday but officially told only 3 still in custody. The people deserve answers.”

That post, Morgan wrote on Schroer’s behalf, is a call for transparency.

“A statement calling for greater government transparency in the investigations surrounding a tragic event is exactly the kind of ‘policy formulati[on]’ that legislative immunity exists to protect,” Morgan wrote. 

The assertions of official business mask the nature of the posts, Loudermill’s attorneys wrote.

“Labeling plaintiff as an illegal immigrant and a shooter was highly offensive to plaintiff and caused him injuries,” they wrote.

All four Republicans being sued by Loudermill have asserted that they did not direct their posts to a Kansas audience and that they have no personal connections to Kansas that gives the federal court there jurisdiction.

Loudermill’s attorneys responded that large numbers of people in Kansas saw the post and that Loudermill sustained the injury to his reputation in the state where he lives.

The entry of Bailey’s office to defend the lawmakers has drawn a sharp rebuke from some quarters. 

On May 16, the day before this year’s legislative session ended, Sen. Mike Cierpiot, a Lee’s Summit Republican and a bitter foe of the Freedom Caucus members, tried to amend the daily journal to read that “it is the opinion of the Missouri Senate that the office of the attorney general should not expend any money from the state legal expense fund” to defend Hoskins, Schroer and Brattin.

And Gov. Mike Parson issued an order last month that no payments related to the lawsuits should be certified from the state Legal Expense Fund “without my approval or a court order.”

Missourians, Parson wrote, “should not be held liable for legal expenses on judgments due to state senators falsely attacking a private citizen on social media.”