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A Tale of Two Cities’ Responses

21 Jan

Both Byrnes Mill and Hillsboro have had to face issues of police misconduct in recent months. The responses of their respective political leadership could not have been more different. Let’s compare.

-In both cases, officers privately approached city leadership to report the misconduct. In Byrnes Mill, the leaders ignored the officers. In Hillsboro, the mayor reacted right away.

-Hillsboro requested that the competent, trusted, impartial JeffCo Sheriff conduct an investigation. Byrnes Mill requested that the not-impartial, not trusted Arnold police department, which has a history of attacking accusers and denying allegations, do an investigation, but only after the officers took their concerns public.

-The Hillsboro report was released within a few days by the sheriff. The Arnold investigation took weeks, and Byrnes Mill only released a short summary. They say they are going to ask a county judge what information they can release from the full report, which really makes no sense and appears to be a delay tactic. Byrnes Mill has apparently still gotten no order from a judge, over three months later.

-The Hillsboro report included a thorough review of the problems within the PD. The Byrnes Mill report was narrowly focused on the allegations in the no-confidence letter. Can you imagine what the sheriff would find if he investigated Byrnes Mill?

-Also within a few days, the Hillsboro chief resigned and an officer was fired. In Byrnes Mill, the officer who was the subject of the no-confidence vote, Roger Ide, was eventually separated from the department, and the police chief was shunted over to a cushy PR job. Four of the eight officers who signed the no-confidence letter have also left the department, one way or another. Byrnes Mill then secretly installed a buddy of the Arnold police chief as its new chief.

-Hillsboro allowed an officer from the sheriff’s department to serve as its temporary chief, and is at least open to the idea of turning policing over to the sheriff for good, although the weak resignation of the Hillsboro mayor probably kills the chances of that happening. Byrnes Mill reportedly had a few Arnold officers help out, and you will have to pry the BMPD out of the cold, dead hands of city leadership, despite a series of embarrassing failures over the past decade.

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Hillsboro is Latest County Police Department in Disarray

17 Jan

You may recall that back in July 2018 the county sheriff revealed in a report that the DeSoto police department was wholly incompetent, with insufficient training, leadership, policies, and equipment. Well, we have just learned that Hillsboro is in the same predicament.

The sheriff was called on to investigate the Hillsboro PD last week for the initial purpose of looking into theft. It turns out that there was allegedly some falsifying of time sheets leading to unearned pay. Hillsboro police chief Steve Hutt resigned and another officer was fired, but this was only the tip of the iceberg.

The sheriff’s department found a variety of shocking failures in Hillsboro. The report can be read here. The findings include:

  • One officer was not trained on his weapon, and failed qualification for it, but was still allowed to work.
  • Officers were given two weeks of on the job training before being allowed to work solo, versus the standard of 12 weeks in most departments.
  • Hillsboro lacked policies for basic police functions.
  • Officers lacked any documented training on equipment or policies.
  • Pornography was found in at headquarters and in police cars.

Handling of evidence was another huge problem. Evidence was sitting around, unsecured and unlabeled, including sex crimes evidence, and thus unable to be used in prosecution. Other evidence, including heroin, was missing. There was mold in the evidence fridge. Additionally, felony and crash reports were not completed, again making prosecution and insurance claims impossible.

Because of all this, on Friday the 11th, when the biggest snowstorm in five years was bearing down on our region, the JeffCo Sheriff had to take time to train Hillsboro officers on policies (use of force, discharge of weapons, pursuits) and weapons, and do firearm qualifications testing, while repairing and maintaining Hillsboro’s decrepit firearms.

In addition, Hillsboro was doing the bare minimum of background checks on police officers before hiring them. It sounds like they basically just checked CaseNet for convictions. They had no idea what past violations or personal issues these applicants had.

So, Hillsboro residents, think of all this before you panic about losing your police department, or lament for the officers who could lose their jobs. Your city is in a dangerous place. Officers or residents could be hurt or killed, crimes could fail to be solved and prosecuted, and your city could be hit with massive lawsuits if an untrained officer with no policy guidance shoots and kills a suspect or innocent bystander.

The JeffCo Sheriff’s Department will lead the Hillsboro PD for the immediate future. Hillsboro will have to decide whether to attempt to fix all these problems, or to turn policing over to the county. I tried to argue here that DeSoto should have taken the latter option, but no, residents there clung hard to the ideal of a local police force. Hopefully Hillsboro leaders will resist this uninformed impulse and let the better resourced, better trained, more capable county sheriff take over, and disband the Hillsboro PD. As Sheriff Dave Marshak said, “everyone in our county deserves a competent professional police force.”

 

Police Purge at Byrnes Mill

9 Jan

In addition to the child molester in its ranks, Ryan Shomaker, the Byrnes Mill police department has parted ways with a number of other officers through firing and resignation in recent months in the wake of the big no-confidence incident that began in August 2018.

Back then, eight city police officers submitted a letter of no confidence, alleging certain offenses by Lt. Roger Ide. The Arnold PD was chosen to investigate, and its report synopsis is here.

In the aftermath, Police Chief Gary Dougherty was shunted over to the newly-created, cushy Director of Community Relations position. Ide was fired, but so was Kevin Schroeder, the guy who wrote the no-confidence letter. What kind of message does that send? Fire the guy causing a bunch of problems, but then simultaneously fire the guy who blew the whistle, who organized the letter after city officials ignored his privately-expressed concerns.

Here is the list of other signees of the letter. Those that are no longer with the BMPD, according to the city, are struck through. I do not know if these individuals (other than the first one) were fired, resigned, or forced to resign:

Cpl. James Iken – resigned

Jamie Mayberry

Mike Stivers

Justin Robinson

Chris Hancock (updated)

Jason Holt

Bradley Tritch

As you see, only half of those who spoke out have retained their jobs.

How Now?

I find it interesting that new BM police chief Frank Selvaggio is the one who turned the Shomaker case over to the JeffCo Sheriff. Selvaggio just took over as chief in late October. Shomaker had been abusing the kid, while serving as a reserve police officer, for over four years. How did the fact of this abuse escape all of the previous BM chiefs, but was immediately found out by Selvaggio? Were the other chiefs just that blind? Seriously, Shomaker “separated” from the BMPD only six days after Selvaggio arrived.

Update: A Leader article states that the BMPD came into contact with Shomaker’s victim on October 30 for an unrelated manner, at which time he reported the abuse.

 

Domestic Altercation at Home of Pevely Police Chief

26 Dec

According to a police report, the JeffCo sheriff’s department was called to the home of Pevely police chief Charles A. Moutray by his wife on the night of November 17, 2018 after a domestic altercation. The responding officer completed a probable cause statement against the chief for 4th degree domestic assault, but no arrest was made and the county prosecutor later decided not to press charges.

The physical incidents described in the report focused on Moutray’s wife’s attempts to view his cell phone. Moutray, who goes by Tony, is described to have flipped her over his body and off the bed onto the floor, where she struck her head. Later, Moutray is accused of breaking a door in order to unlock it and get to his wife, at which time he dragged her to the ground by her ponytail. He then left the residence before police arrived.

In Moutray’s statement, given to police at a nearby church parking lot, he claims his wife accidentally fell off the bed when reaching for his phone. He also claims he grabbed her by the neck in order to retrieve his phone so he could leave the house.

Domestic assault in the 4th degree is a Class A misdemeanor.

The city of Pevely does not appear to have taken any action in response to this incident, according to a review of minutes of closed sessions of board meetings.

Moutray was one of three Pevely officers involved in a 2016 arrest that led to an excessive force lawsuit and a $300,000 settlement by the city, which was finalized this past September.

 

Byrnes Mill Investigation Update

19 Oct

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said “When you strike at a king you must kill him,” meaning that if you don’t, royal retaliation will be swift and severe. I think this quote is relevant to the current situation in Byrnes Mill. Eight valiant police officers made a declaration to city leadership of no confidence in police lieutenant Roger Ide, putting their careers at risk to expose wrongdoing. However, they must finish the job and metaphorically overthrow the regime in the city, or it will strike back and the status quo will be preserved.

We have begun to see this manifested, as the powers that be in Byrnes Mill have struck back at the whistleblowers. While Ide has been suspended without pay, according to the Leader, so has Kevin Schroeder, the officer who wrote the letter. In addition, another signee, James Iken, has resigned. All indications are that he was pushed out. There may have been other officers punished, but the city is, of course, refusing to comment. The police chief, Gary Dougherty, seems to be in limbo as well.

Given the pushback, it seems that the officers and anyone else with knowledge has gone to ground, refusing to talk at all about what is going on. While this is understandable, the fact is that the battle is now engaged. The city will fight to bury this story and punish those who went rogue, hoping it all blows over. But this needs to stay in the news. We need to know the lengths to which the city is going to quash this, and what kind of punishments they are handing out. Also, who is doing the punishing? The police chief seems to have totally removed himself from the situation. Shouldn’t he be the guy running the police department? What are the mayor, city administrator, and board of alderman saying and doing?

Arnold: Questionable Choice

One part of the strategy to get past this episode with minimal repercussions, I think, is that the city chose the Arnold PD, of all places, to investigate. Had Byrnes Mill chosen the county sheriff, as did De Soto during their recent turmoil, people would have had faith in the outcome. But the ties between Byrnes Mill and Arnold are enough to give one pause.

The crux of the connection between the two entities is that they share the same city attorney, Bob Sweeney. Sweeney has, in both places, acted in a questionable manner to preserve the ruling regimes, primarily by selectively kicking candidates off the ballot. He has an interest in protecting the status quo, because changes in city government could cause him to lose a client. Sweeney was fired from Arnold in 2010, but he helped get his cronies back into power and he was quickly rehired. So what is good for the ruling regimes is good for Sweeney, so he probably wants to help quash this.

Arnold has a history of poor investigating. They hired out to a private individual to do an investigation of what I believe were politically-motivated harassment allegations in 2013. The results of this investigation were, as I wrote, shockingly shoddy. The council originally refused to pay for the abomination, but again, after an election, the new cronies came in and handed over the cash.

In an interesting coincidence, one or more officers in 2007 wrote an anonymous letter making allegations against Arnold police department officers, including the chief. While denying all the allegations, the city (and Sweeney) went after a former officer that they claimed wrote the letter, even filing a lawsuit against her (07JE-CC01259 – CITY OF ARNOLD ET AL V SONIA ADAMS). Some of the allegations in the suit involved the guy who is still chief of the Arnold police, Robert Shockey, selling items from his personal business to the city. I exposed this activity in 2014 (the above incident was before my time), leading to a front-page story in the Post-Dispatch. This provides reason to believe that other denials by the city of Arnold were lies. And so now we have the city of Arnold investigating another incident of officers making credible claims of wrongdoing against their leadership. And you wonder why people are skeptical of this arrangement? Arnold has experience in dismissing accusations it does not like and then retaliating against whistleblowers.

Byrnes Mill does too, allegedly. In 2014, former interim chief Michael Smith filed a lawsuit alleging that he was fired after refusing orders from then city administrator Larry Perney (now with Manchester) to fix tickets, enforce ticket quotas, and not do checkpoints. Smith was suspended and told to resign the very day he reported these accusations to Bob Sweeney. Smith was awarded a settlement by the city. It should be noted that Smith pled guilty to wire fraud this year but got no jail time. Yet nothing changes in city hall. It is a regular den of thieves.

It should also be noted that Sweeney has a brother who is an Arnold cop.

Willful Ignorance Among City Leaders

I would like to highlight a couple of statements that show how ridiculous city leaders are. In the Leader article, it mentions that deputy city clerk Tracy McAfee resigned from the city. Mayor Rob Kiczenski says he does not know why. But I understand McAfee submitted a resignation letter to the city, laying out in detail what her complaints were. So Kiczenski is seemingly lying.

Here is a comment that alderman Bob Prado made on Facebook:

prado comment1prado comment2

Here’s the thing. This was written on about September 8, two weeks after the board voted to have Arnold do its investigation. Yet in desperation to deny the accusations, Prado is still peddling the idiocy that the letter could be a forgery or fabrication. He also acts like he is sticking up for the eight officers, when in fact his board is aiding and abetting the retaliation against them.

Advance the Attack

Back to my original analogy, now is the time for the valiant officers, and other right-minded city employees, to tell their tales publicly. Let us know what is going on behind the curtains through all these scandals. You don’t have to necessarily identify yourself – you can speak anonymously (I can help). This story needs continued attention if it is going to lead to change in Byrnes Mill, whether through the ballot box or outside intervention. Otherwise, things will just return to the status quo, like they did after previous scandals in the city and police department.

DeSoto Should Turn Policing Over to the Sheriff

15 Jul

This will be a rather unpopular opinion in some circles, but here goes. Herculaneum last month solicited a proposal for the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office (JCSO) to take over policing in the city, but the city rejected the offer without much discussion (which I think was a mistake). Now, with the current chaos in DeSoto, the city will consider the idea of turning things over to the sheriff. Given the high level of public attachment to the idea of having a local police force, and a general reluctance to give up control, the city will probably reject the idea. However, DeSoto would be better off going with the sheriff.

Here are the main reasons:

Pay. With its passage of Prop P, JCSO has taken care, for the forseeable future, of the officer pay problem that is facing most police departments. They will be able to attract a sufficient number of qualified applicants to field a complete contingent of officers. If DeSoto decides to maintain its own PD, they will have to raise revenue in order to increase police salaries. The city claims it will be able to reassign $200,000 of general fund money away from parks to police when money from its recently-passed parks and stormwater tax starts rolling in, but that assumes that the city will refrain from spending 1/3 of the estimated $600,000 proceeds from the tax each year on new projects and instead use it for park maintenance and salaries, which seems unlikely.

So while it is possible that a proposal from the JCSO will cost more than DeSoto’s current police budget ($975,000 plus $260,000 for dispatching), one has to factor in the additional spending DeSoto must do to bring its department up to standard and raise salaries. Note also that, even if the DeSoto PD goes away, the city will be able to keep its own municipal court and receive ticket revenue.

Training and Experience. A number of recent departures have gutted the DeSoto PD of its experienced leaders. The department has no chief, no detective, and only one sergeant. As Sheriff Dave Marshak indicated in his note, the PD is not up to date on policies and procedures, creating increased risk of liability. The lack of an experienced detective mean victims of violent crimes are less likely to receive justice. The sheriff indicated that, even with the needed money, it would take a long time to bring the PD up to acceptable standards. This is not a knock on the officers in DeSoto, just a consequence of high turnover and low budgets.

Leadership. While they do not seem to recognize this, city leadership is largely responsible for the current issues at DeSoto. In discussions, I have heard blame directed at several different people in city government, and there are others not currently in government who caused problems in their day. What are the chances of this leadership changing any time soon? I have my doubts. There has been some turnover lately, but it does not seem to me like enough has changed to warrant confidence that the city can turn things around and stop driving police officers out of the department.

Misconceptions

I have heard a number of misconceptions from the public in Herculaneum and DeSoto relating to a sheriff switch that I would like to address.

Deputies will have to come all the way from Hillsboro. First of all, deputies don’t sit in Hillsboro waiting for calls, they are out on the roads in whichever of the three zones in the county they are assigned to. Second, the Herky proposal included officers assigned exclusively to the city. The DeSoto proposal will undoubtedly include the same provision.

The JCSO would be spread too thin. If the JCSO takes over policing in DeSoto, the city will pay for the privilege. The JCSO will be able to use this money to hire more officers. Maybe even officers from DeSoto. Therefore, both the city and the unincorporated county will have a sufficient number of deputies on patrol.

Response times are too long. It is true that in the past, due to salary issues, the JCSO did not have enough deputies, and therefore it would take a long time for deputies to respond to low-priority calls. However, with the passage of Prop P, JeffCo has begun hiring many new deputies, even though the tax hasn’t kicked in yet. According to a Facebook post today, the JCSO will be at full strength in two weeks for the first time in 20 years. Response times in the unincorporated county will be improving. And this would be a moot point for DeSoto anyway, since it would have its own dedicated deputies, as I said above.

Probably Not Gonna Happen

In the end, DeSoto will almost surely keep its own police department and its own dispatchers. That is the politically smart choice, because that’s what the vocal contingent of DeSoto residents seems to want. And councilman Clayton Henry has a double conflict of interest in keeping the PD (his wife’s dispatcher job and city ammo purchases from his business). But I think this decision will lead to the city simply muddling along for the next several years or more. I also predict that the city will take this outcry of approval for a hometown police department as an opportunity to propose a tax hike for law enforcement. So get ready for that. However, city leadership will change little, so it is quite possible that good cops will continue to depart from the city at a high rate.

Suggestions for Next DeSoto Council Meeting

12 Jul

At the DeSoto city council meeting Tuesday night, which was belatedly moved to the gym at Vineland Elementary, the council voted on a deal to reimburse the county sheriff’s office for supervising the DeSoto police department for the short term. This is after the city police chief, Joe Edwards, resigned last week. The residents of the city also had the chance to make their feelings known during the comment portion of the meeting. Here’s a TV news report on the proceedings.

The next meeting, on July 16, will also be held at the gym. Before that meeting occurs, I have some advice for the city.

1. Have more than one microphone. There was a mic at a podium to the right side of the council table where speakers would stand, but nothing at the council table. So when the council was going through its motions and votes, nobody could hear anything. This led to a bit of an uproar when the council was voting on the temporary contract with the sheriff. Some in the crowd were mad that voting was happening before public comment, but others were mad they couldn’t hear what the council was doing. The sole microphone was attached to a portable speaker that was stashed in the corner. Move that speaker out and turn it up next time.

2. Don’t let the city attorney run the show. I have been to meetings of several county bodies, but have never seen the attorney (in this case, Mark Bishop, who is running for county prosecutor) play such an active role. He got up to introduce the contract to the council, and even “strongly urged” the council to approve it. Meanwhile the city manager didn’t speak at all. When the aforementioned uproar took place, Bishop was the guy trying to get the crowd to quiet down. The mayor spoke at the beginning and the end, but he’s gotta take charge and put Bishop, who is being sued by a recently-resigned Desoto officer, in the corner.

3. Talk about the actual problems with the city and police department. At the beginning of the meeting, Mayor Rich McCane gave some extended remarks in which he blamed Ferguson, Senate Bill 5 (which stopped cities from making excessive profits from writing tickets), wages, and other things for the current problems with the police department. He only vaguely referred to “internal issues” during his talk, but managed once again to whinge about the thwarted annexation of the Union Pacific property, from which he hoped to gain new revenue. Conversely, during the public comment time, residents spoke about leadership being the main problem. Several relatives of former cops spoke, saying expressly that money was not the issue. The two biggest applause lines of the night were:

  • “We need a change in leadership” and
  • “The chief (Edwards) destroyed the department”

DeSoto operates under a ridiculous “absolutely no comment” rule when it comes to personnel, which they claim is due to state law, but I believe they are going overboard. There is no reason a longtime city manager should get fired, like David Dews did, and the city provides absolutely no reasoning whatsoever. The people who paid for Dews’ big severance deserved to know what happened, and in the current situation, the people also deserve straight talk. If city leaders were as worried about ethics as they were about total silence on personnel issues, then they wouldn’t be in this mess right now.

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