The board fired Lt. Richard Aites after he initiated a background check on Gregory Moore, McGee's pick for police chief — a former colleague and friend from the Pagedale Police Department.

"A pre-employment background investigation was never conducted on Chief Moore. Pre-employment investigations are required by policy of Vinita Park," the lawsuit reads. "Aites was terminated for following the stated policies and procedures of Vinita Park."

Following several disagreements with McGee and Moore, Detective Haywood submitted a memo to the chief addressing "various issues that led to an unsafe and hostile work environment within the Vinita Park Police Department," according to the lawsuit. Moore charged Haywood with insubordination, and the board of aldermen terminated him.

JaCola Williams believes she was fired for airing Vinita Park’s dirty laundry.
Jennifer Silverberg
JaCola Williams believes she was fired for airing Vinita Park’s dirty laundry.
Vinita Park’s mayor, James McGee.
Vinita Park’s mayor, James McGee.

The board fired officer Will Luu for violating the city's nepotism policy. According to the lawsuit, he had disclosed the family tie in question — his brother-in-law was a fellow officer — three years earlier, and it became an issue only "after the change in Board and Department composition."

Chief Moore recommended that the board terminate officer Brian Peck for insubordination after Peck brought a recording device to a meeting with Moore and refused to turn it off, according to an internal memo. Moore deemed Peck an unproductive officer who "does not value his job." The board evidently agreed: Peck was fired.

Atchison quit after a newly arrived African American lieutenant had the St. Louis County Police Department investigate him for excessive use of force. An unrelated legal filing notes that the St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney characterized the complaint as "spurious." Atchison took a job in neighboring Overland.

"They could have ruined my career," he says today.

A sixth officer, Sgt. Paul Carroll, also resigned and would later file his own suit against the City of Vinita Park. According to his complaint, Carroll quit because he believed Chief Moore was "papering his employment file with bogus reprimands in an attempt to unjustly terminate Carroll just as they had done previously with the five other non-African American officers."

In July 2012, St. Louis attorney Jonathan Berns filed suit on behalf of former chief Fairman and former public -works director Godfrey, challenging the board vote that ended their appointments. "The four African-American Aldermen voted to terminate the Plaintiffs and the two Caucasian Aldermen voted against the terminations," the suit says. "The African-Americans who replaced Plaintiffs were not as qualified as Plaintiffs."

In all, of the eight non-African American officers who were on the force when McGee took over the mayorship, none remains today.

"It was calculated, premeditated. I think the mayor had a plan," says Aites. "None of the African American officers in my department were fired. They're still with the department to this day.

"I don't know how more obvious it could be."

As attorneys at Dolley and Mielcarek's firm prepared their clients' discrimination case against the city of Vinita Park, the lawyers discovered an unlikely ally.

JaCola Williams' star had risen quickly in Vinita Park. Brought aboard on the mayor's recommendation as an interim tax collector, she soon held down a second post as deputy city clerk.

McGee makes no secret of his fondness for her.

"I treated her like she was my own daughter," the mayor says.

Williams says the affection wasn't mutual.

"It was always uncomfortable," she says. "Just...extra niceness."

On several occasions McGee had Williams accompany him to functions around the St. Louis area and out of town. Not long before a trip to Jefferson City in 2011, Williams says, McGee called to say he wanted to give a fellow mayor one of the two rooms the city clerk had booked: Would Williams be willing to share a room with McGee?

"He was like, 'It's two beds, and I would never do anything,'" Williams remembers.

There ensued a concerned call from Williams' mother. McGee's wife wound up accompanying the mayor on the trip.

Williams says the same scenario played out two more times. Each time, she says, she found someone to travel with her. Family members recall such situations reducing her to tears.

Not long after the third hotel-room fiasco, in February of 2012, Williams was arrested for driving with a suspended license. She says Chief Moore, who'd taken over the top post at the Vinita Park P.D. after Fairman was let go, brought her to city hall, where he and Mayor McGee proceeded to grill her about the sexuality of her roommate, questioning why the woman dressed in "boy clothes."

The following day, Williams alleges, McGee confronted her, asking whether she was a lesbian.

"I'm like: 'What does this have to do with me working?'" she recounts. To which, she says, the mayor replied, "'That could hurt your job. That really could hurt your job.' After that meeting ended, he got up, gave me a kiss on my head and said, 'I want you to get it together.'"

Williams documented these incidents in a June 2012 letter, copies of which found their way into the hands of Vinita Park residents and city officials. (Williams says she gave the letter to a woman she considered a confidante, who photocopied and distributed it.)

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