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Fundraising Web pages for Ferguson cop still closed; it's unclear why

ShootingsCrimeLaw EnforcementLaws and LegislationPolitical FundraisingMichael BrownU.S. House of Representatives
Fundraising mysteriously ends for Ferguson police officer who killed Michael Brown
Facebook page backing Ferguson officer who killed Michael Brown is deleting comments about accountability

Organizers have remained silent on why donation pages raising more than $400,000 for the police officer who killed an unarmed black 18-year-old in Ferguson, Mo., were shut down without explanation over the weekend.

A related Facebook page has been deleting comments from those who raise questions about the accountability of the donations. 

On the crowdsourced fundraising site GoFundMe, "Support Officer Darren Wilson" and "Support Officer Wilson" -- two separate pages with similar names -- raised $235,750 and $197,620, respectively, for the Ferguson police officer who shot Michael Brown on Aug. 9.

A similar page for Brown's family, run by the family's attorney, Benjamin Crump, had raised $316,194 as of Monday afternoon.

The shooting prompted weeks of unrest and demonstrations against the overwhelmingly white police force in mostly black Ferguson, sending Wilson into hiding as local and federal investigations seek to determine whether he wrongfully killed Brown.

The online donation campaigns have generated some controversy for defending Wilson, especially after some visitors left racially offensive remarks in at least one of the comment sections, which have since been removed.

Both pages appear to have stopped taking donations around the same time on Saturday, and as of Monday afternoon, the pages’ organizers have not explained why. If a visitor attempts to donate, a message appears that says: "Donations are Complete! The organizer has stopped donations."

In a statement provided to the Los Angeles Times on Sunday, a spokeswoman for GoFundMe said the website had not halted the donations.

"Each and every GoFundMe campaign organizer is able to decide for themselves when they would like to stop accepting donations," said the statement from GoFundMe spokeswoman Kelsea Little. "Organizers may also choose to begin accepting donations again at a later date."

The page "Support Officer Wilson," which raised $197,620, is run by a St. Louis police charity called "Shield of Hope," which has been certified by GoFundMe as a valid donation recipient.

The three officers listed on Shield of Hope's state nonprofit records are Joseph Eagan, Timothy Zoll and Jeffrey Roorda. Zoll is a public information officer for the Ferguson Police Department, Eagan is a city council member for nearby Florissant, and Roorda is a Democratic member of the Missouri House of Representatives who is running for state Senate. He is also a former police officer. 

Roorda sponsored a bill in January that would keep police officers’ names secret if they were involved in a shooting unless they were criminally charged. That bill went nowhere.

Eagan, the president of Shield of Hope, told The Times in an email Monday that he had been traveling and that all public responses would be given by Roorda, the group's vice president. Neither Roorda nor Zoll has responded to Times requests for comment.

Roorda was fired from the police force of Arnold, a St. Louis exurb, in 2001. His superiors accused him of filing a false statement against a suspect in 1997 and against his own police chief when the chief declined to give Roorda paid paternity leave, according to Missouri court records

Roorda responded at the time that he’d been unjustly fired, but he lost his appeals. He later became police chief of Kimmswick, another St. Louis exurb, and a business manager for the St. Louis Police Officers Assn. He now sits on the Missouri House’s public safety committee.

The Times also has been unable to reach the anonymous founder of the "Support Officer Darren Wilson" page, a user called "Stand Up," who has raised $235,750 and who has not been officially certified as a verified recipient on the donation page. GoFundMe's spokeswoman vouched for the anonymous donor in a statement to The Times, however.

In contrast with the other Wilson page and the donation page for Brown, little information has been given to donors about who is running the anonymous fundraising effort.

In a message to visitors two weeks ago, the anonymous Wilson fundraiser page wrote that it was working with Shield of Hope to become a verified recipient. That has not happened. The fundraiser also gave out a pseudonymous Gmail account to users seeking more information, but has not responded to a request to that account for comment.

In its statement to The Times, GoFundMe's spokeswoman said the anonymously run donation page had also been removed from its search results, adding that "this campaign no longer meets GoFundMe’s stated requirement of having a valid Facebook account connected."

GoFundMe's security policies encourage users to "only contribute payments to GoFundMe users they personally know and trust. ... Unfortunately there is no way to 100% guarantee that a user’s GoFundMe donation page contains accurate or truthful information."

But spokeswoman Little said GoFundMe "has been in contact with the campaign organizer and has no reason to question their  authenticity. Finally, GoFundMe does possess the ability to place a hold on all donations raised by any campaign that warrants further investigation."

Nevertheless, she said, GoFundMe did not place the hold. 

A popular Facebook page that has been organizing pro-Wilson efforts, called "Support Officer Wilson," told followers this weekend that lawyers were working on a "solution" as to why the GoFundMe fundraisers had been shut down, but gave no more information. (The Facebook page is also run anonymously, and those remarks could not be independently verified.)

After The Times published a version of this story on Sunday, users who posted financial questions about the fundraisers said their comments were being deleted from the Facebook page. In fact, the comments objecting to the deletions were also deleted. 

At one point over the weekend, the Facebook page also urged users to start a petition against the GoFundMe fundraiser for Michael Brown’s family.

Follow @MattDPearce for national news

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times

UPDATE

4:37 p.m. Sept. 1: This post has been updated throughout, including information about one of the Shield of Hope officers and a Facebook page that is supporting Wilson.

5:41 p.m. Sept. 1: This post has been updated to say that Jeffrey Roorda sponsored a bill in the state House that would have barred disclosure of the names of officers involved in shootings unless the officers were criminally charged. 

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ShootingsCrimeLaw EnforcementLaws and LegislationPolitical FundraisingMichael BrownU.S. House of Representatives
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