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Lincoln City Council's Imprisonment

A city-wide reform program under Lincoln Mayor Andrew J. Sawyer in 1887 culminated in legal maneuvering which imprisoned both Sawyer and eleven members of the city council in the Douglas County Jail in Omaha. Following a move against gambling interests in Lincoln by newly elected Mayor Sawyer, complaints were lodged against Police Judge A. L. Parsons, charging that he had not accounted for all funds collected by him as fines. After an investigation indicated that the charges of corruption were true, the city council discovered it lacked the power to act. A city ordinance was amended and the police judge position in question was declared vacant.

Parsons and his attorneys then appealed to the U.S. Circuit Court in St. Louis, charging that Parsons was the victim of an ex post facto law and that the city council had no jurisdiction. Circuit Judge David J. Brewer issued a restraining order; and Mayor Sawyer and city council members stood trial in federal court in Omaha for violating the order. They were found guilty, and (when fines assessed against them were not paid) went to jail.

They spent the first few hours with the other prisoners in the Douglas County Jail, but were soon detained separately. After six days they were removed from "jail" and allowed to temporarily return home. Meanwhile the matter had been taken to the U.S. Supreme Court and President Grover Cleveland had been petitioned. On January 10, 1888, the Supreme Court ruled that charges against the mayor and council members be dropped because the circuit judge had acted without jurisdiction.

(June 1998)



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