MISSOURI, USA — This week’s column will include a series of updates to stories I’ve brought you in recent weeks, including the fate of a racist dispatcher, lucrative settlements for O’Fallon, Missouri, police commanders and the latest thread of the tangled web of juvenile justice issues in Missouri.
Fired or retired?
It seems there’s been some confusion about whether the dispatcher who said the “n word” over an open St. Louis County police radio mic has been fired or allowed to retire.
First, a little refresher.
On Jan. 9, a 17-year dispatcher used the racial slur after taking a call for help from someone regarding a domestic situation. Turns out that dispatcher was Chief Mary Barton’s brother-in-law Mark Peeler. She recused herself from the investigation and put her second-in-command in charge.
Documents obtained by 5 On Your Side showed he was terminated on Jan. 19.
But this week, in the county’s newsletter under the words “Happy Retirement,” his name appeared.
So, which is it?
Hard to tell.
The county will only confirm his dates of employment, saying it’s a personnel matter. This, despite previous chiefs announcing they’ve fired others publicly before.
I also filed a Sunshine request for his age and was told that’s protected personnel information, too.
Sgt. Benjamin Granda sent a statement about the newsletter issue, which read:
“Our position on this has not changed. The dates of his employment are Jan. 20, 2004 to Jan. 19, 2021. You may want to reach out to county government on the matter. We have no control or input on what is contained in their newsletter.”
I’ve sent my questions to County Executive Sam Page’s spokesman Doug Moore. I’ll update this column with his response.
The shout out in the county’s newsletter did not go over well with the Ethical Society of Police, which represents primarily Black officers.
“Former St. Louis County Police Department Dispatcher Mark Peeler, the brother-in-law of Chief Mary Barton, made disgusting racist remarks over open radio. St Louis County, in their February 2021 newsletter that also commemorates Black History Month, wishes Peeler a Happy Retirement with the words ‘We Honor Your Passion and Dedication to St. Louis County Government.’ Peeler's actions should have resulted in a swift termination, strong and public reprimanding, and meaningful action to prevent similar racists acts in the future. SLCPD failed on all three of these counts and the St Louis County government office now is irresponsibly following suit.”
Big pay outs for O’Fallon commanders
Maj. Kyle Kelley and Capt. Jeffrey Gray were escorted out of O’Fallon, Missouri, police headquarters Nov. 12, stripped of their badges and guns and put on administrative leave with pay, according to their attorney, John Lynch.
“They were treated like criminals for filing a complaint against the Interim Chief,” he told me then.
Now, the city has paid them more than $500,000 in settlements combined for lawsuits they filed, which include allegations against the department’s last three police chiefs.
It began in 2018, when they filed suit against the city, Mayor Bill Hennessy, former Chief Roy Joachimstaler and others in the city’s administration accusing them of discrimination and defamation.
Gray also sued Joachimstaler’s successor, Tim Clothier, in 2020, claiming Clothier tried to have an officer make up lies about Gray following a disagreement they had over what type of holsters officers should wear. When that officer refused to lie about Gray, Clothier started questioning his military history, according to the lawsuit.
That officer has since resigned, and so has Clothier.
In an exclusive interview with 5 On Your Side following his abrupt retirement after 18 months, Clothier said someone speaking on behalf of the city council tied his hands when it came to disciplining an officer that Clothier said falsified military history on official department documents.
As to the issue of the holster argument with Gray, he added, “If you’re going to make up a lie about me, at least make it a good one.”
Gray and Kelley also claimed Clothier’s successor, Chief Philip Dupuis asked lieutenants and sergeants to cast a no confidence vote against them.
“My guys understood that was the direction from city hall,” Lynch said. “My clients wouldn’t make that complaint if they didn’t feel it was meritorious.”
The city settled on Jan. 28 with Gray for $300,000 and Kelley for $280,000.
The next day, City Administrator Mike Snowden sent an internal memo to the police department announcing Gray and Kelley had reached a “mutually acceptable resolution with the city of O’Fallon regarding all legal disputes.”
It said Kelley retired from the department that day, according to the memo obtained by 5 On Your Side.
“I appreciate the good work that the major performed over the course of his career with the agency and wish him well in his retirement,” it read.
Gray’s retirement will take effect Sept. 15. Until then, he will remain employed with the department and “available to consult with the chief of police and shall be assigned such duties and responsibilities as directed by the chief in writing.”
The memo emphasized Gray has no supervisory authority or police powers and “shall not hold himself out to the public as an officer or captain of the police department without the signed, written authorization and permission of the chief of police.”
He’s also been allowed to keep his badge, but “he is enjoined not to show or display his badge or use his badge in any respect during the remaining period of his employment” without permission from the chief.
Kelley and Gray are no longer allowed to enter any city owned building or property that is not immediately accessible to the public, including the police department behind locked doors or gates, according to the memo.
“I am glad that this chapter in our city’s history is now behind us,” Snowden wrote. “I want to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of you for your perseverance during the last several years.
“With the elevation of Chief Dupuis from interim to permanent chief, we are able to move forward to a new day for our police department and I am excited to witness the journey that you all are about to take in raising the entire organization to its rightful place as one of the best law enforcement agencies in the entire state of Missouri!”
Snowden ended the memo with, “I know that a number of you have been, and remain, friends with Kyle and/or Jeff. The information above shouldn’t change that at all, but I hope you recognize that we now have a chance, as a department family, to take advantage of the opportunity to move forward.”
Heading to the Supreme Court
As of Jan. 1, 17-year-olds were supposed to be treated as juveniles by Missouri prosecutors.
But, I reported last week, so far only two prosecutors, St. Louis County’s Wesley Bell and Jackson County’s Jean Peters Baker, are following the new law.
That means, whether a 17-year-old is charged as an adult largely depends on where the crime occurred.
Prosecutors who are not following the new law say their juvenile courts are refusing to take the cases because the state has not given them any money to handle an influx of 17-year-olds into their courts.
So, instead of letting their crimes go unpunished all together, the majority of prosecutors are charging 17-year-olds as adults.
One case out of St. Charles County involving a teen named Tyrell Jones appears poised to push the issue to the Missouri Supreme Court.
St. Charles County Tim Lohmar said he didn’t have a choice but to charge Jones as an adult for tampering with a motor vehicle and attempted burglary because the juvenile courts won’t take his case.
Jones’ public defender Sarah Johnson filed a motion to dismiss the charges, citing the Raise the Age law had gone into effect.
The St. Charles County judge denied her motion, so she appealed to the Missouri Court of Appeals. It denied her writ, too.
She’s now taking the case to the Missouri Supreme Court.