Dirty Little Secrets

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

"It was whitewashed," Casey says today. "Those internal-affairs files -- they're so sanitized, it's not funny. We tried showing a cover-up. We were not very successful in that regard. We had trouble finding cops who would come in against Earley. We did have the corroborating testimony of the people who Matt Quinlisk was with, and I thought they were pretty believable."

It's not unusual for the police department to pay plaintiffs even when internal affairs doesn't sustain complaints, Casey says. "They will always cough up the money, and they'll settle the case, but not for a great deal of money," he says. "Of course, the problem with these cases is, more often than not, you're dealing with less than the cream of society. The people the cops beat up tend to be shit bums. That doesn't mean they deserve to get beat up, but nevertheless, they don't have a whole lot of jury appeal."

Gregory Bell, who was beaten by police officers in his own home, demanded more than money to settle his brutality lawsuit. In addition to giving Bell $250,000, police in 1998 agreed to revise their internal-affairs procedures to make it easier for victims to come forward and to reduce the chances of officers intimidating complainants or not accurately recording allegations.

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.

Before the Bell settlement, citizens had to travel downtown to lodge complaints at police headquarters, and they weren't allowed to keep a copy of their statements. To settle Bell's case, the department signed a consent decree, agreeing to keep complaint forms at patrol stations and to instruct officers to give them to anyone who asked. The department was also supposed to issue a press release about the changes.

But it wasn't until the spring of 1999, when Bell's attorneys asked U.S. District Court Judge E. Richard Weber to enforce the consent decree, that the department finally put out a bulletin informing officers that complaint forms should be kept at precincts. The promised press release came months later, on the day before Thanksgiving.

Some say nothing has changed.

Scott Addison, a friend of World Agricultural Forum protesters who were arrested last spring, says police at the South Patrol subdivision didn't seem familiar with the revised procedure when he asked for a complaint form. "They had me standing there for about an hour," Addison remembers. "A cop finally shows up with this crumpled-up, stepped-on piece of paper. 'This is all we have,' he said."

In the Jason Cole case, Cecilia Nadal says the internal-affairs sergeant who answered the phone when she called wasn't interested in gathering evidence while blood and memories were fresh. "He said, 'You cannot make a complaint unless you come down here,'" Nadal recalls. "He said, 'As far as we're concerned, there is not a victim.' It was obvious they were trying to get me off this, to leave it alone."

Nadal had arrived a few minutes after the action but spoke with several witnesses, some of whom recalled seeing Cole's face slammed into the sidewalk and others who only heard the "thump" of his body hitting the ground. "There's no question they used brutality," Nadal insists. "You saw blood all over the place, and you saw all these people crying. I've never been in a situation where I saw so many people upset -- black, white and other cultures. They couldn't believe what had happened."

Nadal called Alderman Kennedy, who besides representing the ward where her business is located is also sponsoring an aldermanic bill to establish a civilian board that would hear complaints against police. Kennedy says dealing with internal affairs in the case was "not a friendly process." By the time he got involved, Kennedy says, he "was really doing some damage control in trying to get the police to recognize this was a serious issue."

Nadal's staff posted a sign on Productive Futures' door urging witnesses to step forward. After Kennedy called police, Captain Reggie Harris of the internal-affairs division met with the staff at Productive Futures. He didn't like the sign, Nadal recalls.

"He was pissed when he saw that," Nadal says. "He said, 'When we come to help with break-ins, nobody says anything. But when something like this happens, you put up signs.' I could not believe he was the head of the department. When that kind of comment comes from a top person, that's indicative of a culture that's been there for some time."

In October, Harris was promoted to major. At the same time, the Board of Police Commissioners promoted Lieutenant Colonel Stephen Pollihan, commander of the department's Bureau of Professional Responsibility, which includes internal affairs. Pollihan is now an assistant chief, just one step below the department's top post.

Stelzer, the attorney who responded to the Riverfront Times' records requests, was tapped as an associate circuit judge on January 12 by Governor Bob Holden.

Steve Guyer, the Kirkwood officer whose lawsuit prompted the Missouri Supreme Court to rule that internal-affairs files are subject to the Sunshine Law, didn't respond to an interview request for this story. But Thomas Mayer, president of the Missouri Fraternal Order of Police and a sergeant with the St. Charles Police Department, acknowledges the irony of a police officer suing to have internal-affairs reports declared public records.

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