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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.

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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.”

 

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.

 

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.

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