Dirty Little Secrets

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

That didn't work either, Miller says. "They told me I would hear from them, and I never heard from them. When I didn't hear from them, I would call. They would say I had to come in. So I would go again."

Nearly four years after the raid, Miller hasn't heard the results of the internal-affairs investigation. "Nobody did nothing," he says. "Calling the police on the police does no good, because they don't go against each other."

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.

According to the federal government, Miller and others who have complained to the St. Louis police department's internal-affairs division shouldn't have to wonder about the outcome of investigations.

In guidelines issued in 1999 and updated in 2002, the U.S. Department of Justice recommends that police departments release as much information as possible about internal-affairs cases. At a minimum, the guidelines say, departments should tell complainants whether their allegations were upheld or dismissed, and why.

"You have to tell people how their complaint was responded to," explains Daryl Borgquist, spokesman for the Justice Department's Community Relations Service, which published the guidelines. "You can build trust between people when you have communication and things are open."

In the Jason Cole case, Cecilia Nadal, owner and president of Productive Futures, called internal affairs the same day the teenager was arrested. A year later, she's still waiting to hear the results of the probe.

"We were waiting for the legal system to work and hoping that it would," Nadal says. "And to this point, it hasn't. It's so clear to me that the culture of internal affairs is one of defensiveness and not objectivity."

Alderman Terry Kennedy, whose ward includes the strip mall where Cole was arrested, says he made sure police were aware that he wanted to be notified of the investigation's outcome. He says he last inquired about the case in late summer, but he hasn't heard anything back.

South-side resident Tom Hallaran says police haven't told him anything about an internal-affairs complaint he lodged after his home on Illinois Avenue was raided shortly before the World Agricultural Forum last spring. Police seized computer equipment, papers, climbing gear, welding tools and assorted other belongings. "'Instruments of crime that could be used in protest situations' -- that's what it said on the warrant," says Hallaran.

Hallaran says he's still missing about $600 worth of computer equipment and climbing gear. Occupants of a nearby home that was also raided say tires were slashed while bicycles were in police custody and that their belongings reeked of urine when they were allowed back into the building several days after the raids.

Hallaran recalls that he spoke twice with internal-affairs investigators, once within a week of the raid and again in June, after Chief Mokwa ordered an investigation to determine whether officers had damaged property. That, Hallaran says, was his last contact with police. "They haven't followed up with us at all. They haven't brought any charges, but we still haven't received a lot of our stuff back and we don't know the status of what they're doing."

The department refused to supply internal-affairs files on the raids to the Riverfront Times, claiming they're not public records because urinating on personal belongings and slashing bicycle tires aren't crimes that would trigger disclosure under the Guyer ruling. Notwithstanding a state law that defines destruction of property as a criminal offense, department counsel Michael Stelzer argued that any wrongdoing by officers during the raids would be a civil matter. (For more about this issue and incidents surrounding the World Agricultural Forum, see "Legal Loopholes" in the August 13, 2003, issue of Riverfront Times.)

Federal court files in brutality cases show that the St. Louis police department fights hard when asked for internal-affairs records. In at least two cases, the department has hired the high-powered law firm Lewis, Rice & Fingersh -- which unsuccessfully defended Kirkwood in the Guyer case -- to quash demands for internal-affairs files. In both instances, federal judges denied pleas to keep police records secret.

In one of those cases, attorney Thomas Casey got a court order compelling the department to produce an internal-affairs file on an alleged September 1998 pistol-whipping of his client, Matthew Quinlisk, who was driven away in an ambulance after his encounter with police. Although Casey believes his client was assaulted, the department provided no documents on the case in response to the Riverfront Times' request for records.

Officer Daniel Earley was off-duty and talking to a woman outside a Lafayette Square bar when Quinlisk made a "smart-ass comment of some kind, to the effect that 'That's a mighty fine-looking woman you got there,'" Casey recalls.

"Earley turns to him and says, 'What did you say?'" says Casey. "Earley walks up to Quinlisk. As he's approaching, he takes out his 9mm Beretta, then slaps Quinlisk on the head with the butt of the gun -- I think it was several blows. Quinlisk goes down to the ground, and he's out. He was hurt pretty goddamn bad."

Although Quinlisk was arrested for assault, prosecutors dismissed the charges. Internal affairs dismissed Quinlisk's allegation along with the other 96 physical-abuse complaints the division handled that year. But Quinlisk collected $17,526 to settle his federal lawsuit.

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