JeffCo Sheriff Candidate Refuses to Condone Special Treatment

17 Jul

I came across an incident from 2004 that is highly relevant to the current GOP primary race for Jefferson County Sheriff. It involves something that is not all that rare, a high profile person being let off the hook after being caught driving drunk. But Sean Cooper, then a Festus cop and now a sheriff candidate, chose not to play along.

Drawing from contemporary news reports and the lawsuit filed by Cooper, here are the allegations in the case:

One night in March 2004 when he was on duty, Cooper states that he was warned by a fellow officer, Sgt. William Stewart, that Festus municipal judge Michael Lowry was driving around drunk in his new black Lincoln. Shortly thereafter, Cooper followed a Crystal City officer to the scene of an accident involving…a black Lincoln. Stewart was already there.

Stewart asked the Crystal City cop to handle the incident, but the latter said no because Lowry filled in as a judge in Crystal City sometimes. He suggested bringing in the Highway Patrol. Stewart allegedly declined, remained in charge, and suggested to the driver of the other vehicle in the accident that she might lose her license because she had no proof of insurance. The driver then left the scene, making no accident report.

cooper suit festus 1-10-05

Post-Dispatch article from January 10, 2005 on the Lowry incident and Cooper’s lawsuit.

Then Festus police chief Tim Lewis, who is still the chief, showed up and drove Lowry home. No charges were filed, no arrrests made, and no police report was filed.

Cooper reported this incident to his superiors and to a Festus councilman. Cooper also met with the mayor. Two months later, some sort of investigative hearing was held with Cooper, the mayor, and several councilmen. Cooper tape recorded his testimony at the hearing, and they knew this was happening. He even turned over the tape to a councilman upon his request.

Despite assurances by the mayor and council members that his job was not in jeopardy and that he was protected as a whistleblower, Cooper was fired by Chief Lewis shortly after the hearing. The investigation into the Lowry incident was dropped and no action was taken. Lowry, however, who denied he was intoxicated, resigned as city judge after this, supposedly for unrelated reasons.

The official reason for Cooper’s firing was that he tape recorded that hearing, and general orders prohibit recording city employees without consent. But Cooper did not record employees, he recorded his own comments to elected officials. This reminds me of a recent Defense Department case in which an analyst who spoke out against political manipulation of intelligence about ISIS was suspended and reassignedfor swearing. Any excuse to get rid of a whistleblower. That DOD analyst won her appeal and got her job back, though.

Festus also tried to claim that Crystal City actually took charge of the Lowry incident, but Crystal City chief Doug Ruess denied this.

Cooper Sues

Cooper filed a federal lawsuit against the city over his firing in November 2004. In the end, Cooper won a $55,000 settlement from the city. According to Stewart’s LinkedIn page, he still works for the Festus police, though his name is not listed in the police email directory.

What We Need

In a time when cronyism is rampant, trust in police is impaired, and the Missouri municipal court system is seen as corrupt, we need a guy like Sean Cooper with ethics, and the courage to follow them, as our next JeffCo sheriff. It would send a message that voters want the same rules to apply to everyone when it comes to the law. Here’s what Cooper says on his website:

First, I will not tolerate any ethical misconduct. This is deeply rooted in the core of my being, and the reason why I became a whistleblower concerning law enforcement related corruption in the spring of 2004.

Honor is a word that its definition is best seen in a life lived of courage, respect, integrity and honesty.  The character of a man will follow him to his grave, but the respect spoken of his name afterward reveals the life he lived.

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6 Responses to “JeffCo Sheriff Candidate Refuses to Condone Special Treatment”

  1. Anonymous July 17, 2016 at 8:36 pm #

    Mr Cooper is a honest man. BUT at the pachyderm meeting last week he was said he would keep the under sheriff Steve Meinberg on as under sheriff. Does he not realise he has to run against him in the general election.

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  2. Anonymous July 18, 2016 at 9:24 am #

    If Steve Meinberg is a good officer and has the skills required to handle being an under sheriff, why fire him? Seems it would also be a reason to vote for Sean Cooper, as he is “party” blind and only cares about doing the job right, regardless of party affiliation.

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    • Anonymous July 19, 2016 at 10:09 am #

      The jeffco penknife endorsed Cooper because he was an outsider. That means not part of the current leadership. Yet Cooper says in a backwards way he wants to keep the current leadership in power. I find it ironic.

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      • Anonymous July 20, 2016 at 1:04 pm #

        You have a good point about the outsider vs the insider. But JCPenknife gave other reasons, and the integrity being very important. I would see it as a witch hunt to “relieve from duty” my competitors, just because one could.

        Maybe look at it this way. Sheriff Cooper would still need good, qualified officers, and maybe he knows enough about Meinberg to feel he qualifies? He’ll also need someone that knows his way around the department, too. If not just to get a jump start on turning it around quicker.

        I don’t know Meinberg at all, and am not defending him. Only guessing at reasons for Cooper to get his feet wet in the department before making wholesale changes.

        Sean Cooper has both an election page as well as a Facebook page. I see he’s answered questions on the latter, without beating around the bush or giving a “political” answer. Maybe a good place to ask him that question?

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      • JC Penknife July 20, 2016 at 1:38 pm #

        Ironic perhaps in the Alanis Morissette sense – i.e. not really ironic. I would not expect Cooper to come in and burn the place down. I expect that he would want to retain some institutional memory of the JCSO in order to keep what works and change that which can be improved.

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  1. Former Arnold Pastor Pleads Guilty to Burglary of Parishioners, and Related Events | Jefferson County Penknife - August 8, 2016

    […] Recall that the Festus PD also let the city judge get away with a potential DWI in 2004, as I wrote about here. How common is this in […]

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