OLIVETTE – St. Louis County’s Animal Control Department destroyed about 20,000 pounds of paper records without proper permission after cockroaches and mice infested the documents, county public health officials said Monday.

The destruction comes as the county faces three lawsuits and open records requests related to its animal shelter. Some of the records sought in those lawsuits have been destroyed, said Mark Pedroli, an attorney who filed suit against the county and its animal control department on behalf of two clients.

“This has never happened before,” Pedroli said. “I’ve never had anyone destroy 20,000 pounds of documents in the midst of litigation.”

District officials said no one realized that roaches and mice had infested about 400 cardboard boxes in a storage room at the animal shelter from around 1968 near North Lindbergh and Baur boulevards. About 250 have already been destroyed.

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The problem was discovered at the end of September. The Animal Protective Association of Missouri, the nonprofit organization taking over management of the animal shelter, has begun going through boxes, said Christopher Ave, a health department spokesman.

Personnel files, vaccination records, case investigation reports, kennel reports and performance reviews dating from the 1980s to this year were destroyed, according to an Oct. 7 letter from a county records compliance manager to County Council members.

The nonprofit and the county each brought in their own pest control experts to look at the damage.

“Both said the same thing,” Ave said, “this stuff needed to be cleaned up immediately.”

Animal Control notified Acting Associate Director of Public Health Kate Donaldson about the problem.

Donaldson went to the building with public health staff on Oct. 3 and “immediately began the process of going through the records and going through the schedule of retention,” Ave said. The county is required to keep records for a certain amount of time, depending on the type of document, according to the province.

The contamination was so bad that Donaldson, a longtime public health professional, immediately ordered that the records in their custody be destroyed because they posed a health hazard, Ave said.

But Donaldson didn’t know the County Council had to approve the destruction of records, Ave said. Approval of the destruction of old records is routine at weekly board meetings.

Donaldson was not available for comment Monday.

Has the country broken any laws?

State law says if a lawsuit is pending and someone has requested records as part of that lawsuit, the records don’t have to be destroyed, said Jean Maneke, an attorney with the Missouri Press Association and an expert in Missouri public records.

Pedroli, the attorney, said he was seeking rabies records destroyed as part of his client’s whistleblower lawsuit. Mandy Ryan, who worked as a provincial animal population manager from December 2019 to December 2020, claimed in her case, among other things, that veterinarians in St. Louis County complained they had not received rabies tags from animal control.

Rabies records from 2004 to 2018 and 2020 to 2022 have been destroyed, according to the letter from the county’s records compliance manager.

In another lawsuit, Webster Groves resident Erin Bulfin sued the county after animal control killed her family’s dog, Daisy. The dog suffocated Bulfin’s daughter, and the family complied with county ordinance by bringing Daisy to animal control for quarantine. The family told animal control they did not want Daisy euthanized, according to the suit.

St. Louis County sought to control what information Bulfin shared about the case, and asked a judge to issue an oral injunction, Pedroli said. The judge refused this request, which was first reported by the television station KSDK (Channel 5). Animal intake records are relevant to that case, Pedroli said — but the county letter said intake cards from 1987 to 2020 were also destroyed.

“Why couldn’t they just disinfect?” Pedroli asked. “Why didn’t they just move them?”

“I’m just pulling my hair out.”

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