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In re Schuessler

Supreme Court of Missouri, En Banc

August 13, 2019

In re: AMBRY NICHOLE SCHUESSLER, Respondent. In re: KATHERINE ANNE DIERDORF, Respondent.

          ORIGINAL DISCIPLINARY PROCEEDING

          Patricia Breckenridge, Judge.

         The Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel (OCDC) seeks to discipline the law licenses of Ambry Nichole Schuessler and Katherine Anne Dierdorf for multiple violations of the rules of professional conduct in relation to their dishonesty about and concealment of a brutal assault of a suspect in custody by a police detective and the charges resulting therefrom filed by their friend and co-assistant circuit attorney. At the time of the incidents, Ms. Schuessler and Ms. Dierdorf were serving as assistant circuit attorneys with the office of the circuit attorney of the city of St. Louis (OCA).

         The preponderance of the evidence proves Ms. Dierdorf violated Rules 4-1.13, 4-8.4(c), and 4-8.4(d) by failing to disclose information regarding the co-assistant circuit attorney's knowledge of and conduct following the police detective's assault of the suspect in custody. The preponderance of the evidence further establishes Ms. Schuessler violated Rule 4-8.4(g) by making a racist and homophobic comment about the suspect's assault and Rules 4-8.4(c) and 4-8.4(d) by failing to disclose her knowledge of the assault by the police detective and her repeated dishonesty during the investigation and prosecution of the police detective.

         This Court finds the severity of Ms. Dierdorf's misconduct as a result of her dishonesty and instruction of others to conceal information about the incident justifies the imposition of an indefinite suspension with no leave to apply for reinstatement for three years. Similarly, Ms. Schuessler's repeated dishonesty during and interference with the federal prosecution of the police detective justify the imposition of an indefinite suspension with no leave to apply for reinstatement for two years.

         Factual and Procedural History

         In 2011, Ms. Dierdorf became licensed to practice law in Missouri. In February 2014, Ms. Dierdorf accepted a position as an assistant circuit attorney with OCA. Ms. Dierdorf was assigned to the misdemeanor division and was supervised by Philippa Barrett.

         In 2013, Ms. Schuessler became licensed to practice law in Missouri and began working as an assistant circuit attorney with OCA. She was assigned to the misdemeanor division and was supervised by Ms. Barrett.

         While working at OCA, Ms. Dierdorf and Ms. Schuessler became good friends with Bliss Worrell and Lauren Collins, who were also assistant circuit attorneys in the misdemeanor division, and a summer intern, Jane Doe. The group socialized outside the office and texted frequently. The following events led to the disciplinary proceedings against Ms. Dierdorf and Ms. Schuessler.

         Tuesday Night

         On Tuesday, July 22, 2014, Ms. Dierdorf, Ms. Worrell, and Ms. Doe went to a St. Louis Cardinals baseball game. While there, Ms. Worrell received a telephone call from a detective with the St. Louis police department, Thomas "Tom" Carroll. Ms. Worrell and Det. Carroll had a close, personal relationship. They talked frequently on the telephone, socialized outside of work, and were training together for a marathon. Det. Carroll called because his daughter's vehicle had been broken into and her credit card stolen. Later that night, a suspect was apprehended with the daughter's credit card.

         Wednesday

         On the morning of July 23, 2014, Ms. Dierdorf was in her office with Ms. Doe. Ms. Worrell entered the office and stated, "Tom beat up that guy" who stole his daughter's credit card. Ms. Worrell left Ms. Dierdorf's office soon thereafter, but the following group text message later occurred between the three women:

Ms. Worrell: Hah. I realized we shouldn't be talking about [T]om beating someone up in front of [another coworker.][1]That behavior is not on her "true public servant" list
Ms. Doe: I think she's too dense to realize what we are talking about
Ms. Worrell: That's probably true
Ms. Dierdorf: Yeah she has no clue

         Ms. Dierdorf did not report to her supervisors Det. Carroll's assault of the suspect immediately following Ms. Worrell's disclosure of it.

         Later that morning, Ms. Dierdorf was in Ms. Schuessler's office. Ms. Worrell walked into the office talking on her cell phone with Det. Carroll. She put the cell phone on Ms. Schuessler's desk and said, "Tom, tell them what you told me." Ms. Dierdorf then left the office.

         On speakerphone, Det. Carroll proceeded to describe how he beat up the suspect who stole his daughter's credit card. He explained that he punched the suspect in the face and kicked the suspect while he was in a holding cell. He further stated he hit the suspect in the back with a chair and stuck a gun in the suspect's mouth. Ms. Schuessler then made the comment, "I bet that's not the first big, black thing he's had in his mouth." Det. Carroll and Ms. Worrell laughed. After the conversation ended, Ms. Schuessler did not report Det. Carroll's assault of the suspect to her supervisors.

         That afternoon, Ms. Worrell went to the warrant office even though she was not assigned to the warrant office that day. She issued charges against the suspect Det. Carroll assaulted, including a felony charge for fleeing custody.

         Thursday

         On the morning of July 24, 2014, Ms. Dierdorf was, again, in her office with Ms. Doe. Ms. Worrell entered the office and told them she had issued the case against the suspect Det. Carroll beat up for stealing his daughter's credit card. The group also discussed some details of the assault before Ms. Worrell left the office.

         Ms. Dierdorf then went to Ms. Schuessler's office. Ms. Collins was also in Ms. Schuessler's office. Ms. Dierdorf came in and said, "Bliss really messed up." She then told Ms. Schuessler and Ms. Collins that Ms. Worrell went to the warrant office to intercept the warrant application for the suspect beat up by Det. Carroll. She further stated the suspect was falsely charged with fleeing custody to explain why the suspect was injured. In response, Ms. Schuessler stated, "We could get in trouble just for knowing this." Ms. Dierdorf responded, "How would they find out. I'm not going to say anything."

         After Ms. Dierdorf left the office, Ms. Collins and Ms. Schuessler checked the OCA database to see if the suspect had been charged. Their check revealed the suspect had been charged with a felony for fleeing custody. Ms. Schuessler expressed concern that an innocent man could go to jail for a crime he did not commit. Ms. Schuessler was hesitant to report Ms. Worrell's conduct because Ms. Schuessler and Ms. Dierdorf were roommates. But when Ms. Collins indicated she was going to report the incident to their supervisor, Ms. Barrett, Ms. Schuessler went with her to Ms. Barrett's office. Ms. Collins informed Ms. Barrett that she believed Ms. Worrell had filed false charges against a suspect whom Det. Carroll had assaulted while in custody.

         Ms. Dierdorf was then called to discuss the matter with her supervisors - Ms. Barrett, Ed Postawko, chief warrant officer, and Beth Orwick, chief trial assistant. She disclosed that she had learned something about Det. Carroll roughing up a suspect who stole something from his daughter and that Ms. Worrell had issued charges. She was adamant she had told no one else what she knew about the assault. She did not disclose that Ms. Worrell had told her about the assault directly or that she had learned about the assault prior to Ms. Worrell issuing charges against the suspect on Wednesday.

         Ms. Dierdorf then went to a courtroom where Ms. Schuessler was also present. Ms. Dierdorf said to her, "I told them I don't know anything. You don't tell them you know anything either." Ms. Schuessler perceived Ms. Dierdorf's statement as an instruction not to tell the supervisors anything.

         Ms. Schuessler was then called to interview with Mr. Postawko and Ms. Orwick. She told them she had overheard a conversation between Ms. Worrell and Det. Carroll about the assault. She also said Ms. Dierdorf told her Ms. Worrell had issued false charges against the suspect to cover up the assault. She did not disclose that she had heard Det. Carroll describe the assault on speakerphone or that Det. Carroll used a gun during the incident.

         That evening, Ms. Dierdorf drove Ms. Worrell home. During the drive, Ms. Worrell spoke with Det. Carroll on a cell phone about how people found out about the assault and the charges. After Ms. Dierdorf dropped off Ms. Worrell, Ms. Dierdorf and Ms. Doe exchanged text messages. During the text conversation, Ms. Doe asked, "If they determine Bliss knew it was a false police report can any charges be brought against ...


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