The Little City That Couldn't

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

Tracy Panus, media relations officer for the St. Louis County Police Department, declines to discuss Collins' involvement in the incident. "The investigation's still open and active," says Panus. "We can't really comment." She says McDonald was shot in the arm after his car jumped a curb, and that he was subsequently treated and released from an area hospital.

Chief Haynes placed Collins on administrative leave pending city and county investigations.

In September of last year, another of Haynes' early hires, Sergeant William Monroe, was charged with assaulting a security guard at a St. Louis Walgreens. According to a complaint brought by the Department of Public Safety, the incident occurred when Monroe, while off duty, parked in a space at the drugstore that was reserved for on-duty officers.

As the populace heads to the westward suburbs, Pine Lawn's infrastructure is crumbling. But that doesn't stop the city's politicians from fighting over the scraps.
Jennifer Silverberg
As the populace heads to the westward suburbs, Pine Lawn's infrastructure is crumbling. But that doesn't stop the city's politicians from fighting over the scraps.
Impeached alderman Johnny O'Kain fears for the life of his hometown.
Jennifer Silverberg
Impeached alderman Johnny O'Kain fears for the life of his hometown.

"When told by security officer Kenneth Scott that he could not park at that spot, [Monroe] pulled a firearm from his holster, pointed it at Mr. Scott and stated, 'Don't ever touch me. I'll kill you,'" the complaint reads. "[Monroe] then punched Mr. Scott in the jaw."

Haynes says Monroe was disciplined internally. "He was suspended for three days without pay," says the chief, noting that adjudication by the state's hearing commission is still pending. "He was arrested but not convicted."

Says Monroe: "I'm a police officer, not just in the city of Pine Lawn, but in the state of Missouri. This investigation will show that this security guard was threatening, unprofessional. I feared for my personal safety. I fully anticipate clearance."

Monroe is also quick to rise to the defense of his boss. "There has been a complete turnaround under Chief Haynes," he says. "The number of citizen complaints, the number of police brutality cases have plummeted since Haynes took over a year ago."

Current and former Pine Lawn city employees say their insurance coverage lapsed last year without their knowledge.

"They stopped our dental insurance back in November," recalls former Pine Lawn police officer Everett James. "We weren't told until February or March, but they continued taking money out of our checks."

Workers say their health insurance disappeared as well. "They didn't know they didn't have it until one of their family members had to go to the hospital," says Kinloch Police Chief Donald Hardy, who has taken on several of his former Pine Lawn officers. "When they took the bill to city hall to get it paid, they found out their insurance had been lapsed since November. The officers didn't know they didn't have it. They thought they were still covered."

Pay stubs provided by one former officer show that during the five-month period from November 2005 through February of this year, $11.63 was deducted from each paycheck to cover "INS."

On March 14 Chief Haynes addressed a letter to Mayor Caldwell and Karl Taylor, Pine Lawn's city administrator. "Recently this Chief of Police was in receipt of information concerning the notification of the cancellation of our dental insurance for the members of the Pine Lawn Police Department," reads the letter, copies of which were provided to the Riverfront Times by former city employees. "Daily there are questions from police personnel who are concerned about benefits supposedly in place and as of now, we are not sure in how to answer the same with truth."

In a letter dated September 14, 2005 — six months before Haynes became aware that his officers were uninsured — the city's insurance provider, BlueCross BlueShield, warned Pine Lawn officials that the city's account was in arrears.

"[W]e have not received the premium payment for your company's employee health benefits plan," the letter states. "If your payment is more than 30 days late, we will cancel your group's coverage."

Additionally, an October 17, 2005 letter from the city's insurance broker, UPAC, states that Pine Lawn's workers-compensation insurance policy with the St. Paul Travelers Companies had been terminated for "non payment of premium." A "notice for request for reinstatement" from the Kanas-based broker asserts that the Travelers account was canceled October 5, then reinstated two weeks later. "UPAC cancelled the policy below (Travelers) on 10/05/2005 because of default by the insured," reads the notice. "On 10/18/2005 UPAC received payments to bring the account current. Insured would appreciate reinstatement of the policy."

City records indicate that Pine Lawn paid $33,000 to reinstate coverage.

Former Pine Lawn alderman Johnny O'Kain says the on-again/off-again maneuver violated municipal law. "This is an illegal policy," O'Kain alleges. "It was tabled and it was never brought back before the Board of Aldermen. "[Karl] Taylor was supposed to bring that before the board, and we're supposed to approve it. That never happened. Here's a $33,000 wire transfer to reinstate the policy. This was transferred without board approval. They paid $33,000 on an illegal contract."

"The insurance has never lapsed," counters Taylor, who contends that the bill was actually $16,000. "With St. Paul Travelers, we ended up having to pay $16,503 for nine months. That's extremely high, but we had no choice but to pay that in order to stay within the guidelines of the law, as well as protecting the city."

Taylor confirms that Pine Lawn is no longer covered by BlueCross BlueShield, but not, he says, because of a delinquent health-insurance account. "We were able to get a better rate with another company," he says.

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