Dirty Little Secrets

The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department keeps a tight lid on internal affairs. Even if it means breaking the law.

· Mark S. Hubbard, a narcotics officer who lost his license last year after he removed license tabs from a Jeep leased by the FBI and put them on his Nissan Maxima. Although there's no indication Hubbard was prosecuted, the state determined that his peace-officer license should be revoked because he committed a crime.

· Delores I. Cowan, who lost her license after she took a $300 money order from a suspect in 1997 and deposited it in her bank account. According to State Administrative Hearing Commission records, Cowan pleaded guilty to a crime (records don't state the charge) and received a suspended sentence.

· Francesco LoForte, who lost his license two years ago after he was accused of stealing from a burning car a gym bag that contained a handgun. LoForte wasn't prosecuted, but that didn't mean he wasn't guilty, the commission concluded. "The preponderance of the credible evidence shows that LoForte took the bag and its contents," wrote state administrative hearing commissioner Willard C. Reine.

Photoillustration by Tom Carlson, photography by J
Jason Cole lost a tooth in his encounter with St. Louis police. Witnesses to the incident say the teen wasn't resisting officers.
Jennifer Silverberg
Jason Cole lost a tooth in his encounter with St. Louis police. Witnesses to the incident say the teen wasn't resisting officers.

Nor did the department provide any documents regarding Jeffrey Pierson, who resigned from the force in November 2002, a few days after security guards at Union Station said they'd caught him masturbating in his pickup truck. Pierson kept his state license because a surveillance videotape that showed him moving his hands around in his lap was too grainy for the commission to reach a definitive conclusion. Pierson explained that he was scratching a "terrible irritating male itch." He retained his state license, but he no longer works as a police officer in Missouri, according to the Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission.

The Riverfront Times asked Stelzer why the department failed to turn over documents on officers who'd been stripped of their state certification. He promised to address the matter. That was on December 23 of last year. The newspaper hasn't received an explanation.

State records aren't the only documents that chronicle conduct by officers whose identities and alleged crimes are shielded by the department. Seven people who claimed police brutality during the time period covered by the Riverfront Times' public-records request have sued in federal court and collected settlements totaling more than $370,000. In only one of those cases did the department supply a complaint summary.

The department released a censored summary in the case of Nancy Meyer, who collected $30,000 after she was beaten by Officer Christina Gonzalez during the 1999 Mardi Gras celebration in Soulard. Gonzalez, a probationary officer, eventually pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor assault charge. Lieutenant Daniel G. Simpher recommended that she be dismissed from the force.

The department released no documents in six other brutality cases that resulted in lawsuits settled with taxpayer money. The biggest winner was Gregory Bell, a mentally handicapped man who was beaten by police in 1997 after he accidentally triggered a burglar alarm in his own home. Bell collected $250,000, but Stelzer says the department can't release any records about the incident because former Sergeant Thomas Moran was acquitted of assault charges in the case, and state law requires that records be sealed when defendants are acquitted of criminal charges.

In the other five cases, settlement amounts ranged from $8,000 to $25,000. According to court documents and plaintiffs' attorneys, the plaintiffs all complained to internal affairs before suing the police. None were convicted of crimes stemming from the incidents that sparked their lawsuits.

Crawford Miller, age 74, sued after officers in search of marijuana and drug profits broke down his door on March 6, 2000. Miller has driven a cab in St. Louis for 54 years and has never been charged with a crime, according to court records in St. Louis and St. Louis County. He was in bed recovering from radiation treatment for lung cancer when officers arrived. His first inkling of trouble came when he heard someone on his porch.

"They didn't knock," Miller recalls. "I didn't know they were the police -- they never said 'police officer' or nothing." He says the officers wore military-style fatigues instead of standard-issue uniforms and broke down his door just as he was opening it. "I'm looking in the barrel of a shotgun," he recounts. "I thought I was being robbed."

Miller says he ran from the doorway toward a shotgun he kept behind his bed. He was about twelve feet away from his gun when the officers caught him. "They threw me down on the floor," he remembers. "I was telling them that I had just had a cancer operation and I couldn't put my hands behind me -- I'd had half of my left lung removed. They told me they didn't give a damn what I'd had. They put their foot in my back and pulled my arms behind my back, broke three of my ribs and pulled my rotator cuff out of the socket, and put handcuffs on me. They went through everything in the house -- they even went through my garbage."

Police found neither drugs nor money, although court records show they seized the shotgun. Miller says police also took his prescribed Percocet and a bottle of expensive cologne.

After he telephoned the station to complain, a sergeant who'd taken his pain medication returned the call, Miller says. "I knew his voice. He told me, 'Ain't nobody taken your medicine.' They didn't do nothing. So the next day I got up and went down to internal affairs."

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