ST. LOUIS, MO – A police charity has stopped taking donations for Darren Wilson — the Ferguson officer at the center of a national shooting controversy — until determining the tax implications of spending proceeds on his legal bills, organizers said Tuesday.
“There is nothing sinister going on,” said Jeff Roorda, a board member speaking for Shield of Hope, a nonprofit arm of the Fraternal Order of Police. “We just may have to make it a legal fund rather than a charitable fund, but it all depends on what the tax folks have to say.”
Neil Bruntrager, an attorney for the St. Louis Police Officers’ Association, which is Lodge 68 of the Fraternal Order of Police, characterized the donations as “fairly small amounts, but a lot of them.”
“When you are talking about money of that kind of magnitude, you want it to withstand any and all scrutiny that might come along with it,” Bruntrager said. “Before it’s distributed, there can be tax implications.”
Roorda said fundraising would resume after the organization received answers from the Missouri attorney general’s office and the Missouri Fraternal Order of Police about whether donations spent on legal matters remain tax-deductible.
Shield of Hope typically pays for family expenses of officers who are injured or killed. Roorda said the charity agreed to get involved with Wilson because legal representation is a benefit of membership and, “A case like this could bankrupt the FOP.”
He added, “Whether we think he’s guilty or innocent and people try to make decisions before the evidence is out there, he deserves legal defense just like any other criminal or civil defendant.”
Wilson has not been charged or sued but is under investigation by a St. Louis County grand jury and the FBI. Some witnesses said he was not in jeopardy when he fatally shot Michael Brown on Aug. 9. Officials have not detailed Wilson’s side of the story.
Suspension of donations marks the second major turn in the effort to help Wilson.
Roorda said the administrator of a page dubbed “Support Officer Darren Wilson” on the funding website GoFundMe was a teenager whose family reached out to the FOP to take it over after she received threats.
He said GoFundMe did not allow transfer of administrators, so the organizer agreed to donate the $200,000 it raised to the FOP. The charity’s own site has raised about $200,000 more, he said.
The teen who started the first site, whom Roorda said also is named Wilson but not related to the officer, did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Shield of Hope was launched in 2012 to support officers from about 100 suburban St. Louis police departments, including Ferguson’s.
Roorda, business manager of the Police Officers Association, also is a state representative from? Barnhart. A Democrat, he is running against Rep. Paul Wieland, R-Imperial, for the vacant 22nd District state Senate seat.