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Claims from Wife of Pevely Alderman Have No Corroboration; Leader Article on the Accusation is Fake News

28 May

The May 23 Leader contains a report of an accusation by Diane Coulson, wife of Pevely alderman Larry Coulson, that former alderman Dave Bewig threatened her and/or her husband. Mayor Steph Haas used this threat as a pretext to expel Bewig from the May 20 board meeting and ban him from future meetings. The Leader describes the accusation as a he-said, she-said kind of event, quoting the Coulsons’ accusation from the police report and Bewig’s denials to the paper. However, the police report contains several items that call into question the reliability of the Coulsons. The Leader ignored all of these items.

First of all, here is the police report. Go read it. I will wait.

Here are the items that I believe speak to the lack of trustworthiness of the Coulsons:

  • They made three contradictory statements about who Bewig threatened to “shoot in the back of the head.” First it was Larry, then it was Diane, then it was “not sure.”
  • Diane twice lied (or was very confused) in front of a police officer (Greg Long) about whether she had been talking to Long about filing a police report. Long stated in the report that Diane said she was going to get a restraining order. Then the mayor, and later her husband, approached her. She told both of them that she was talking to Long about filing a police report. Long denied this both times, since she had only mentioned a restraining order, and he explained the difference. Diane continued to insist that she told the cop she wanted to file a police report. Alternatively, it is possible that Diane was confused about the difference between a police report and an order of protection. But given that Larry had been a cop, I doubt it.
  • Diane stated twice to officer Long that SHE was going to kill Bewig.
  • Despite several people, including police officers, being nearby when Bewig supposedly made his threat, nobody else heard him say it. And Dave Bewig is not one who speaks softly.

Given these facts, we have ample reason to doubt the Coulsons’ claims. One could explain this as Diane merely mishearing something, but given the way the mayor and her cronies jumped at the chance to use the report to their advantage, this starts to look like a manufactured stunt. The way that the Bewig eviction from the May 20 meeting played out adds additional reason to believe this is all a stunt. I will explore that in a later post.

Note also that no restraining order has been served against Bewig, so either the judge denied it or the Coulsons did not follow through on their announced intention to pursue one. Bewig filed for a restraining order against Diane, but he was denied.

The reporting officer stated that she wants the incident forwarded to the county prosecutor “due to this incident involving two Alderman (sic).” It is clear that the officer is doing this because of the political sensitivity, not because of the abundance of evidence of a crime. But city attorney Sean Westhoff used that statement to justify the expulsion of Bewig.

But when is Diane Coulson going to be banned from meetings? She is the only person in this incident for whom we have proof of a stated threat of violence. Haas said “we will not tolerate that type of behavior,” but apparently she is very selective of what she will and will not tolerate.

It is true that Bewig was impeached by the board in 2015 (under questionable circumstances), and that he can be abrasive and use salty language, but Pevely can’t ban him from board meetings based on such weak sauce as this.

Leader Fake News

Now, I don’t use the term “fake news” lightly, but we know that the Leader reviewed the police report described above, as it is mentioned in the article. How is it that the Leader failed to mention all of the evidence that serves to discount the Coulson claim? The paper included the above-mentioned statement by Westhoff in the article, but said nothing of the numerous holes in the Coulson story. In fact, the Leader takes two of the contradictory statements from the Coulsons about who was threatened, and treats them as two separate claims:

According to the report, Coulson’s wife allegedly heard Bewig threaten her husband.

Larry Coulson told police that Bewig “has continued with a course of conduct over the past year” that is a “direct attempt to intimidate a city official.” [Note – no evidence is provided to back this up.]

A police officer is quoted as saying Diane Coulson told him that Bewig had threatened her, too.

The fact is that Larry told one officer that Diane heard Bewig threaten Larry. But Diane told another officer that Bewig threatened her. These are not separate incidents, these are two descriptions of the same incident. Instead of treating this as a contradiction, the Leader treats it as a pattern of conduct by Bewig. They completely twisted evidence that makes one party look bad 180 degrees to make the other party look bad. Five days after the incident, Diane told police she wasn’t sure who Bewig threatened.

I made a comment the other day on my Facebook page that certain county politicians and officials should donate generously to the Leader‘s plea for donations, in thanks for all the friendly, favorable coverage the paper gives them. Mayor Haas was one politician I mentioned. Give the way the Leader article on these “threats” is spun against Bewig, Haas should give an even larger donation.

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Pevely Officer Blows The Whistle Again

19 May

On the same night that the Pevely board of aldermen voted to fire two police officers (the one who assaulted a detained man and the one who helped cover it up), they also voted 6-0 to give officer Joe St. Clair a letter of commendation.

In the full version of the video of the Robert “Ryan” Watson assault incident at the Pevely police booking area (starting at the 38-second mark here), you can see an officer step in front of Watson (his superior officer) as Watson heads around the counter in a hot rage. Watson ignores the officer and blows past him. That officer was St. Clair.

watson video

In addition, acting police chief Larry Miller said that it was an officer that initially alerted him to the incident, which occurred on April 23. Watson was fired on May 8.

Adding all this evidence together, we can assess that it was St. Clair who alerted Miller about the incident. We know that he witnessed it firsthand, after all.

This is not the first time that St. Clair has raised alarms about improper police conduct. In 2015, after leaving his previous job with the Bellefontaine Neighbors police, St. Clair let KMOV know that the mayor and police chief there had enacted a per-officer quota of 50 traffic tickets, ordinance violations, parking violations, etc, per month. St. Clair provided paperwork to prove it. The mayor and chief said they were doing nothing wrong, in typical corrupt north St. Louis County municipal fashion. However, these allegations led to the Dept. of Justice getting involved in the situation.

Officer St. Clair deserves commendation for holding other officers accountable for wrongdoing. And Miller and the board deserve credit for acting quickly to get rid of Watson and his thin blue line partner, Wayne Casey.

However, the fact is that an outside investigation is needed of the Pevely PD. There have been too many misdeeds in the past few years. The JeffCo Sheriff’s Department uncovered lots of problems in recent investigations of the Hillsboro and DeSoto police. I’m sure if given the chance to take a comprehensive look, they could find a lot of things to fix in Pevely. But it seems like Mayor Stephanie Haas and the board don’t want to let that happen. Haas denied to media outlets after the Watson video emerged that there were any problems with the Pevely PD. But here is a video from January in which two former officers outlined many problems they had seen in the Pevely PD. They asked for an outside investigation, but no action was taken on that. I think that, if Watson’s victim chooses to file a lawsuit, which is a no-brainer decision, actions such as these by the city will only help raise the dollar amount of the final settlement.

County Purchasing Evidence Building; Could be Used by City PDs

16 Apr

On April 8 the Jefferson County Council approved the purchase of a building in Pevely to be used by the Sheriff’s Office for evidence storage. The Sheriff is running out of space for evidence storage, and new laws and litigation require police to keep evidence for longer time periods than before, while being sure to maintain the integrity of the evidence for use at trial. So the need for space to store evidence will only increase.

The building the county is buying is on Mason Circle Drive, off of Highway 61/67 just north of Highway Z. The purchase price was $780,000, and it is about 10,000 square feet on 3 acres.

new evidence bldg

Municipal Option

The Sheriff is considering the option of allowing municipal police departments in the county to use Sheriff services for evidence storage. Handling of evidence has been a major area of concern among local police agencies. The Sheriff investigated the police in Hillsboro and DeSoto within the past year after problems arose in both cities, and found problems such as unsecured, unlabeled, and missing evidence, lack of training, and water leaks and mold in evidence rooms.

When new police chief Frank Selvaggio took over in Byrnes Mill after poor practices were revealed there, he found drugs and weapons that were not packaged and labeled correctly, as well as a rape kit without a case number to identify it. He also discovered a lack of proper officer training in evidence procedures.

And this is just the police departments that have been investigated or released information on their own. Who knows what evidence situation we would find in other JeffCo police departments?

The Proposal

The Sheriff would charge a monthly fee to participating police departments, and require them to follow JeffCo policies and procedures. Selvaggio mentioned at the March 6 Byrnes Mill Board of Aldermen meeting that the proposal would cost that city an estimated $220 per month. The board indicated that it would be interested in participating.

Sheriff Dave Marshak indicates that the Sheriff’s Office would not pursue this plan unless it is cost-effective for his office and there is room for the additional evidence (the new property does have room for expansion). This idea is still in the phase of assessing the potential interest from the cities and the ability for the Sheriff’s Office to offer the service on top of its own responsibilities, and will move to the next phase later this year when the Sheriff takes possession of the new evidence building and completes necessary modifications.

If adopted, a shared evidence facility would be another great step forward in improving municipal policing in our county, along with the changes that have been forced in DeSoto, Byrnes Mill, and Hillsboro. This would contribute greatly to the ability of crime victims in the county to achieve justice by improving the ability to successfully prosecute criminals.

Better Together JeffCo Proposal

17 Mar

The STL region is all atwitter about the Better Together proposal, which suggests a merger of the city of St. Louis and unincorporated St. Louis County, as well as consolidating some of the functions of the municipalities of the county. The plan is to vote on this statewide in 2020 in order to make changes to the state constitution to enable the new governing structure. Overall, I am in favor of this proposal because there is indeed too much duplication of functions in the area, along with uneven quality of service, and significant savings could be found by streamlining – if they actually go through with getting rid of unnecessary employees and offices. This would also reduce the instances of cities competing with each other with tax breaks to get Walmarts and other businesses to come to their specific areas.

The duplication is most visible is the existence of so many small, corrupt and/or incompetent municipal police departments within STL County. In addition, the city of St. Louis is a basket case and governance there can only be improved through this proposal.

How About Here?

Along the same lines, I would like to lay out a proposal for Better Together JeffCo. I believe there are a number of functions in this county that could be merged to save money and stem the constant tax increases that we have been seeing. A lot of people crow about “local control,” but in small jurisdictions that too often leads to a lack of candidates for election to boards, which leads to uncontested elections, which leads to unaccountable politicians, which often leads to abuses, bad decisions, unethical actions, and even criminal wrongdoing.

The wave of revelations of incompetence and wrongdoing in local police departments in DeSoto, Hillsboro, Byrnes Mill, and Pevely provide further evidence that my proposal is needed. Despite all of the shocking deficiencies that have been uncovered, each city has refused to shut down its police department. This doesn’t just affect finances, it affects the administration of justice, as innocent people get assaulted by unqualified police officers, incompetent chiefs chase away good cops, and guilty people go free due to shoddy evidence storage. As you can imagine, police issues are a big part of my proposal, which is as follows:

Elements of the Plan

-Merge all 911 dispatch into one entity. The majority of the county is on the same system, but Crystal City, Pevely, Festus, and DeSoto do their own police dispatching and Festus does its own fire dispatch. According to the state tax table, CC and DeSoto pay the 1/2-cent 911 sales tax, even though they have their own dispatchers. Festus and Pevely residents would start paying the tax, but the cities would save money by cutting their own dispatch services.

-Merge Pevely and Herculaneum. While Pevely is a constant source of drama and dischord, Herculaneum is a relative bastion of calm. I hardly ever write about events there, because there is not much to report. At the same time, Herculaneum looked into turning its policing over to the county sheriff last year due to its desperate financial situation (but foolishly declined). Herky is using Pevely’s jail and was using Pevely for dispatch before switching to the county 911 system. It is hard to see how Herky, with the loss of Doe Run, can afford to sustain its police. By merging the cities, they can pool resources, and the additional population will dilute the Pevely craziness, so you may end up with one functional, solvent city with reduced drama. These two cities already share a school district.

-Merge Festus and Crystal City. Come on now, we know that this split is ridiculous. I mean, the Walmart is shared by the two cities, and half the time you don’t know which of the two cities you are in. This would prevent things like Crystal City having its own separate water system instead of joining in with Festus and Herculaneum. In 2013 there was a discussion of merging the two cities fire departments into a fire district, but it went nowhere. This proposal could also include merging the school districts.

-Merge fire and ambulance districts. There are currently 7 ambulance and 18 fire districts (including municipal ones) in the county.

Maps from Jefferson County Data Book

Most of the time, from what I have seen, when there is an ambulance somewhere, you will also see a fire truck. Or you will see trucks from multiple districts at the same incident. In addition, there are places like Highway M where you have a Rock ambulance district building within a mile of one Antonia firehouse and within two miles of another one. If these entities would share facilities, we would not need to build so many of them. This would also allow for fewer administrators and officers. We are seeing requests for fire and ambulance tax increases nearly every election. Mergers would save money and reduce the need for tax hikes. The boundaries don’t line up perfectly, but I think you could have each ambulance district absorb the fire districts within it.

-Get rid of municipal police departments except for Arnold, Festus/CC, and Pevely/Herky (assuming the latter two pairs are merged as per above). The other cities would turn their policing over to the county sheriff. The small departments in the county have shown us that they don’t have the ethics, standards, training, or finances to survive on their own. Turning their duties over to the county will bring about economies of scale, eliminating unnecessary chiefs, streamlining training, fleet management, equipment, and distribution of officers around the county. The other cities would pay the sheriff’s office for service, but would likely pay less than what it would take to get their departments up to snuff.

Here is a paragraph on policing from the Better Together executive summary (page 7) that provides an idea of the costs of duplicative services:

POLICING – Today, there are 55 separate police departments covering St. Louis City and County. $468 million was spent on policing the area in 2015, or $355.20 per capita. Costs in cities such as Indianapolis, IN ($242.02 per capita) and Louisville, KY ($257.06 per capita) depict substantial savings in areas with one unified police department. Beyond the cost is the inconsistent quality of service. 75% of the departments in our region lack accreditation.

-Dissolve Byrnes Mill. This idea needs to happen on its own merits, since the city is a mess with a long line of problems with its police department. It is also questionable whether the city has sufficient revenue to stay solvent now that its ability to fund itself with traffic tickets has been curbed.

-Merge the libraries. In addition to the JeffCo library with its three branches (Arnold, Windsor, Northwest), there are libraries in Festus, DeSoto, Herculaneum, and Crystal City. The Herky library is open for very limited hours. The Festus and CC libraries are only two miles apart. DeSoto is looking to almost double the property tax for its library at the April 2 election. Hillsboro has been

Let’s bring all of these libraries under the county library system. That way they could share books, materials, and resources. We could close the Crystal City or Festus location and make the other ones branch libraries, all open to anyone in the county. Residents of Hillsboro have been trying on-and-off for almost 20 years to get their own branch. With this proposal, they would at least have access to libraries in nearby cities. This proposal would require getting rid of the library taxes in the cities that have them, but then extending the county library property tax to the entire county. A branch would probably be needed somewhere between Hillsboro and Cedar Hill to make it fair to residents in that part of the county.

Let me know what you think of this proposal, or if there are other functions that should be included in the merger.

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.

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.

 

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