Hartmann: Sam Page's Broken County Police Department Draws Another Lawsuit

click to enlarge A St. Louis County police cruiser. - PHOTO BY DANNY WICENTOWSKI
A St. Louis County police cruiser.

In almost any other police department in America, St. Louis County Lieutenant Mike Reifschneider would be treated like the hero that he is.

Just not in the one controlled by County Executive Sam Page.

Reifschneider was reportedly promised a promotion to captain and a Distinguished Service Citation for Valor after having helped save the life of a woman who was shot by her estranged husband on January 23, 2020. Reifschneider’s story was especially compelling since he was just 14 when his own father — also a police officer — died in the line of duty.

But the accolade and promotion would not come to pass, because Reifschneider would run afoul of top brass in the department — apparently for having too much integrity.
Reifschneider refused to go along with orders that he punish Lieutenant Ray Rice for having sued the racially challenged department for racial discrimination. Someone decided that Rice should be taught a lesson for his uppity behavior, so Reifschneider — who had just been named acting captain for the West County Precinct — was told to downgrade Rice’s performance evaluation (done by a previous supervisor), which had been nearly perfect.

According to a lawsuit Reifschneider filed against the county last week, bad things ensued for the hero cop, who happens to be white, over his refusal to punish the litigious cop, who happens to be Black. Rice was only out there in west county — on the midnight shift, of all things — because the department decided to give him what’s known as a “geography lesson” out of gratitude for his lawsuit.

From all appearances, Reifschneider began to receive punishment of his own. The next worst thing to suing the county police for race discrimination is to be fair to someone who has.

That’s where the story becomes about Sam Page. All the actors who appear to have perpetrated horrible treatment of Reifschneider were promoted and supported by Page, the new members of the Board of Police Commissioners that he appointed, or both.

One of the key figures was then-Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Ludwig, who would go on to be named deputy chief by the board in February at the same time it named Kenneth Gregory as chief. Previously, the choice of deputies was left to chiefs. Not this time.

Page owns that fact, among others. Why? Because he can’t escape the echoes of those immortal words he uttered on tape in 2020 to Lieutenant Colonel Troy Doyle in promising that Doyle would be promoted to police chief:

“The police board will do what I tell it to do.”

That’s pretty much true. But when unnamed political benefactors decided in 2021 that appointing Doyle wasn’t such a good idea after all, Page had to bail on his promise, even though “Police Chief Troy Doyle” would have been music to the ears of a large swath of county police officers.
What ensued were a couple of bad facts: Doyle, who is Black, responding to his snub with a racial-discrimination lawsuit against the county; and the disastrous hiring of former Chief Mary Barton, for whom the best defense was that she didn’t hire herself. Barton ended up with her own discrimination claims against county police — for which she received a tidy $290,000 parting settlement — but that’s not the story here.

Instead, it’s what Barton did while chief to punish Reifschneider for not punishing Rice, according to the lawsuit. Page, of course, has full deniability for any of this, but only in the eyes of the truly gullible. In the same vein, it must be presumed that the county and its police brass would surely deny any of what follows, but since they feel no obligation to account to the public about this (or any other subject), I’m good with taking Reifschneider at his word.

So, here’s what he says happened. First, Barton reduced his Distinguished Service Citation for Valor to a much less prestigious Chief’s Commendation. To drive home the point, Barton failed even to invite Reifschneider to a public ceremony — held while he was on vacation — that posthumously honored John Colter, who died trying to protect his daughter that horrible day in 2020. There was no public notice of Reifschneider’s award.

Now, Barton did come through with the lower award for Reifschneider when she showed up off duty at his precinct wearing a sweatshirt and sweatpants. As if that weren’t disrespectful enough, there’s this from the lawsuit: “Barton told [Reifschneider] that he was not promoted to captain because of his refusal to change Rice’s rating, which was contrary to Ludwig's directive.”
Reifschneider's lawsuit against St. Louis County.
That has its backstory. Here’s how Reifschneider, who possessed an associate degree from college but not a bachelor’s degree, just happened not to get the promotion he was promised: “1) Barton called for a new promotional process for selecting captains. 2) Reifschneider’s name was removed from the promotion eligibility list. 3) Plaintiff re-applied to be promoted to captain, completed the requirements under the new promotional process, and was placed on the captain eligibility list again in October 2020. 4) On December 16, 2020, Chief Barton again changed the captain eligibility requirements to require a bachelor’s degree. 5) Before adding the new captain eligibility requirements, Chief Barton promoted two officers from the captain eligibility list and promoted a captain to lieutenant colonel who did not have a bachelor’s degree.”

Jill Silverstein, Reifschneider’s attorney, isn’t speaking publicly since filing the lawsuit on his behalf. But here’s what she said about her client to KSDK reporter Christine Byers, who broke the first story last July 2 when Reifschneider’s case was an EEOC complaint:

“We know these folks don’t do this work for the pay, they do it because they want to serve the community and having the community have the opportunity to thank them, it’s valuable,” she said. “And hiding what he did and the service he did for that family and the community was just a real slap in the face and retaliation for refusing to play along with the rules regarding Ray Rice.
“This is the kind of guy you want on the street. A mentor. A leader. With everything we’re going through right now, this is an example of someone you want to look up to, and living up to the legacy of his father, he knew the value of service.”

Yes, one could argue that’s the bias of a plaintiff’s attorney talking, but Silverstein happens to be spot on. Reifschneider, the son of a fallen officer, is an inspirational example of policing at its best.

On January 23, 2020, “due to the efforts of officers on the scene, the victim received lifesaving medical treatment and survived her injuries.” Those words were inscribed upon the award honoring the victim’s father — who most certainly deserved them — but not bestowed on Reifschneider, who deserved them as well.
Why not? Because even though Mike Reifschneider is a hero, he does have one problem.

He doesn’t play by the rules of Sam Page’s police department.

This column has been updated. We mistakenly said that Ray Rice was a lieutenant colonel in the St. Louis County Police Department, but he was a lieutenant. We sincerely regret the error.

Ray Hartmann founded the Riverfront Times in 1977. Contact him at [email protected] or catch him on Donnybrook at 7 p.m. on Thursdays on the Nine Network and St. Louis In the Know With Ray Hartmann from 9 to 11 p.m. Monday thru Friday on KTRS (550 AM).

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