The Little City That Couldn't

Buried in bureaucratic incompetence and scandal, Pine Lawn might be headed for a pine box.

Not mentioned were the antics of Mayor Wright, who was known to walk the streets of Pine Lawn in a white cowboy hat and is alleged to have called then-Alderman Rose Griffin a "stupid-ass motherfucker." Toward the end of his tenure, Wright made headlines when he exchanged ten $100 bills for a rare $1,000 note the police department had confiscated and was holding as evidence. (Wright eventually returned the bill.)

After defeating Wright by a vote of 343 to 215 in April 2005, Mayor Sylvester Caldwell's first order of business was to shake up the city's police department.

"The first thing they did was get rid of my drug-sniffing dog. This was the best drug-sniffing dog in the country," says Donald Hardy, Pine Lawn's former police chief. He's referring to Bathon, winner of the United States Police Canine Association's 2004 Detector Case of the Year award. "You got to think about all them dogs on the border, and this dog sniffed out more drugs than any dog," says Hardy. "They fired the dog first."

Pine Lawn Mayor Sylvester Caldwell has shaken things up since his election in April 2005.
Jennifer Silverberg
Pine Lawn Mayor Sylvester Caldwell has shaken things up since his election in April 2005.

Hardy's pink slip wasn't far behind: By the end of April he'd been let go, having served the city since 1999. "I didn't have a conversation with the man. He just fired me," Hardy, now chief of police in neighboring Kinloch, says of the mayor. "He gave me a letter and I was through."

In Hardy's place, Caldwell appointed Steven Haynes. According to Haynes' application, before assuming the top post in Pine Lawn he'd spent eleven years heading security for the Normandy School District.

Under Haynes, the Pine Lawn PD underwent significant turnover: Haynes estimates that "twelve or thirteen" officers left a staff that averages a roster of eighteen.

Some he fired; others, like former assistant chief David Muser, resigned. "I quit the first day [Haynes] came into office. I was there about an hour and a half," says Muser, a 25-year veteran of police work. "If you're in the business a while, you get a gut feeling."

In June of last year, police captain Chico Bridges tendered his resignation. "Me and a couple other people didn't see eye to eye on things," Bridges says today, though he declines to cite specifics. "I'm a straight-laced cop. There were certain things that didn't suit me, so I chose to leave."

Haynes filled the captain's slot with Rickey Collins. A veteran cop, Collins wasn't new to Pine Lawn. In fact, he'd served on the force until 2001, when the Missouri Department of Public Safety placed his Peace Officer License on probation.

"We let him go as a police officer," confirms Adrian Wright, who as mayor presided over Collins' dismissal.

The Department of Public Safety had put Collins on probation for his alleged 1985 bathroom rape of a co-worker while he was employed as a security guard at a Schnucks supermarket in the north-county suburb of Beverly Hills. At Collins' administrative hearing in 2001, he argued that he'd had an ongoing consensual relationship with his accuser and denied that the bathroom incident occurred. His attorney contended that because the alleged incident occurred more than fifteen years prior, it was too remote in time for Collins to be disciplined.

The accuser, referred to in administrative filings by the initials "MS," eventually admitted that she'd had a consensual affair with Collins. But the Administrative Hearing Commission found that her initial denial "[did] not fatally damage MS's credibility" and that the previous relationship "[did] not show her consent on a later occasion."

Concluded the commission: "[T]he mere passage of time does not affect our finding that Collins sexually abused MS and that he is therefore guilty of gross misconduct indicating an inability to function as a peace officer."

Collins' Peace Officer Certificate was placed on indefinite probation — a fact Chief Haynes says he was fully aware of when he made the hire. "Most of my policemen who come here have a little taint in their past — most of them have had some problems," says the chief. "[Collins] works real hard for me, and if he hadn't turned himself around and done a good job he would not be a captain today."

Adds Mayor Caldwell: "If [Collins] was guilty of those charges, Public Safety wouldn't allow him to be certified. He's a great asset to the community. He's taking guns and drugs off our streets, shutting down drug houses. The people who are the bad elements, sure, they're going to say he's bad. But that's because our town is safer at night because he's back in town."

Though his certification remains on probation, Collins says the incident is behind him. "I have worked hard to return here," he says. "The incident happened more than twenty years ago, and the victim was found to have perjured herself."

Late last month Collins made local headlines for his involvement in the June 23 shooting of Detwan McDonald, who was injured after a police pursuit that began when he allegedly evaded a DUI checkpoint. The St. Louis County Police Department is investigating the incident.

Collins says his gun went off accidentally.

"He was ramming cars, and I was trying to save a family [in] a car," says Collins, who says he was on foot at the time. "When he came toward me as I backed away with my gun drawn, I tripped over a boulder and my gun discharged. We turned the investigation over to the county right away, and there's evidence that I couldn't have shot him, because his driver['s side] window wasn't shot out."

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