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A Missouri SWAT sniper sued to keep his name a secret. We’re suing to learn his identity

In 2023, the Joplin SWAT sniper who shot and killed two-year-old Clesslynn Crawford sued the City of Joplin to keep his name out of investigation records and reports.
Sam Zeff
/
KCUR 89.3
In 2023, the Joplin SWAT sniper who shot and killed two-year-old Clesslynn Crawford sued the City of Joplin to keep his name out of investigation records and reports.

The man, known only as Sniper 1, fatally shot two-year-old Clesslynn Crawford during a 2022 standoff. He is still working for the Joplin Police Department.

There were many questions after a Joplin, Missouri, SWAT sniper shot and killed a two-year-old girl during a standoff in 2022. How did it happen? Why did the sniper choose to fire his weapon? Who exactly was the sniper?

It is rare for the Midwest Newsroom, KCUR or any news organization, to publish a story without the name of an important person in the narrative.

Providing audiences with relevant identifying information about people, places and events is a key tenet of journalism.

During our eight-month investigation into the shooting death of Clesslynn Crawford, we came up against an obstacle to this practice. In November 2023, the SWAT sniper sued the City of Joplin to redact his name from investigation records.

He did so just before the city was set to release those records to the Midwest Newsroom and KCUR. He is known only as Sniper 1.

News A Missouri police sniper killed a 2-year-old girl. Why did he take the shot? Sam Zeff

In his lawsuit, Sniper 1 cited an exception in the Missouri Sunshine Law that says an investigative report can be redacted if it “contains information that is reasonably likely to pose a clear and present danger to the safety of any victim, witness, undercover officer, or other person.”

The Midwest Newsroom and KCUR immediately intervened to argue against redaction.

As evidence that his life was in danger, Sniper 1 cites a half dozen posts from a Facebook Page called The Blue Wall of Silence. Whoever owns the account offered a “$1,000 cash reward for the name of the Joplin Police Officer who shot and killed Clessie Crawford.”

The page also had a post that read “I hope that K I L L E R from the Joplin Police and city of Joplin love their death sentence.”

Clesslynn Crawford, age 2, was the daughter of Taylor Shutte and Eli Crawford. <br/>
Nicholas Family
/
Provided
Clesslynn Crawford, age 2, was the daughter of Taylor Shutte and Eli Crawford.

It appears the Blue Wall of Silence Facebook page is no longer active.

That is the extent of the evidence Sniper 1 offered.

“The officer has shown those posts to the police department, which has taken no action against anyone,” said attorney Bernie Rhodes, acting for the Midwest Newsroom and KCUR.

Why name names?

The Midwest Newsroom and KCUR have decided to publish its investigation into Sniper 1 action’s without his name because we believe it is in the public interest and we don’t know how long the lawsuit will take. We will continue our court case in the pursuit of Sniper 1’s identity.

“The public has the right to know the name of a police officer who recklessly shot and killed an innocent two-year-old child,” Rhodes said. “Under this perverse logic the worse a public official acts, the greater the reason to hide his name from the public.”

In this case particularly, Rhodes says transparency is crucial.

“What if that officer applied to be the Chief of Police? What if that officer applied for a job in another department?”

Clessie’s family settled a lawsuit against the City of Joplin and Cherokee County in November for $1.5 million. Joplin paid $1.4 million of that. In August 2023, Sniper 1 was dismissed as a criminal defendant in the fatal shooting.

“The citizens of Joplin are entitled to know the name of the officer that cost them $1.4 million — surely no one thinks the mayor could spend $1.4 million without anyone knowing who authorized the payment,” Rhodes said.

This story is a collaboration between KCUR 89.3 and the Midwest Newsroom, an investigative journalism collaboration including IPR, KCUR 89.3, Nebraska Public Media News, St. Louis Public Radio and NPR.

Copyright 2024 KCUR 89.3. To see more, visit KCUR 89.3.

Sam grew up in Overland Park and was educated at the University of Kansas. After working in Philadelphia where he covered organized crime, politics and political corruption he moved on to TV news management jobs in Minneapolis and St. Louis. Sam came home in 2013 and covered health care and education at KCPT. He came to work at KCUR in 2014. Sam has a national news and documentary Emmy for an investigation into the federal Bureau of Prisons and how it puts unescorted inmates on Grayhound and Trailways buses to move them to different prisons. Sam has one son and is pretty good in the kitchen.