One of the great, unanswered questions about Steven Blakeney is less about what made him tick and more about why state and regional authorities allowed him to become a cop — and then stay one, even as complaints poured in.
Other law enforcement agencies investigated allegations against him of rape and assault. Lawsuits accused him of battering people during arrests and drugging women at bars. St. Louis city police even charged him with assault in 2014 after he allegedly sucker-punched a woman and her friend as they were leaving the Flamingo Bowl. Citizens in Pine Lawn begged everyone from the state attorney general to the FBI for help. And officers in neighboring police departments suspected him of everything from harassment to using drugs. But for years, no one took action. He continued to wear the badge and operate as a fully sworn officer of the law.
The state Department of Public Safety licenses officers through a division called Peace Officer Standards and Training, or POST. By statute, POST can revoke or deny a license for a wide variety of reasons, says Roger Goldman, a Saint Louis University law professor who helped strengthen Missouri's law governing the licensing of police officers. Along with required criminal background checks and proof of citizenship, provisions guard against "moral turpitude" and substance abuse. An officer can be decertified for committing a crime, even if no charges are filed.
In practice, however, proving a licensed officer is unfit can be tough to do. POST has just two full-time investigators to cover the entire state and often must rely on complaints from an officer's own department to learn about potential problems. It's usually easier for a department just to fire a bad apple and let him become someone else's problem.
The so-called "muni shuffle" of bad cops is one of the reasons there should be a nationwide system of weeding out problem officers, according to Goldman. "You'll see that it has become an ongoing problem," he says.
Blakeney's career might be Exhibit A in just how much trouble one problem cop can cause — trouble that extends well beyond the borders of the municipality that employs him.
A high school dropout, Blakeney got his GED and joined the Marine Corps. He bounced out of the military in less than a year.
He lasted a month in the St. Louis Police Academy, and later enrolled in the Eastern Missouri Police Academy in St. Charles County. Instructors there wrote him up for a string of disciplinary problems, including allegations he "gawked at female college students after being counseled by command staff not to do so."
Blakeney withdrew in late 2003 before a scheduled disciplinary hearing. The academy's executive director wrote a cautionary letter to POST.
"Based on Mr. Blakeney's record at this academy, he would not receive favorable consideration were he to reapply," Eastern's Michael Kernan wrote in his note to the POST program manager. "Nor would I favorably endorse his application to any other police academy."
But Blakeney would be accepted to another academy, enrolling in 2009 in the program at Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau.
It was at the SEMO academy that Blakeney met Lawrence Fleming, who was then an instructor. Blakeney's wife Amanda had gone to high school with Fleming's wife in Festus, and while Amanda Blakeney says she hadn't been close with Fleming's wife, she alleges that Blakeney was looking for a way to befriend Fleming and recruit him as an ally.
It seems to have worked. Two years later, when Blakeney and his wife separated, he hired Fleming as a private investigator to see if she was having an affair. He also listed him as a reference when he applied to Pine Lawn, and eventually recruited him to join the police department. (Fleming didn't respond to requests for comment.)
In November 2009, Blakeney graduated from the SEMO academy and finally earned his police license from the state.
Department of Public Safety spokesman Mike O'Connell says state law prohibits him from revealing what, if any, investigation POST conducted before granting Blakeney a license. Similarly, he can't say whether the state ever investigated complaints against him.
He can confirm one interesting bit of information, though — Blakeney remains licensed, even while he sits in Lincoln County Jail, awaiting an assignment to a federal prison.
And even before he got his license, Blakeney was able to land a few law enforcement jobs. Prior to getting his POST certification, he was a park ranger in Tower Grove Park and later served as a campus cop at Saint Louis University. In 2007, he joined the police department in New Athens, Illinois. He was fired within a year, but in a bizarre twist, the village later hired him back, only to fire him again.
Blakeney sued, alleging he was fired after reporting misdeeds by the chief. Fellow officers, however, thought Blakeney was overly aggressive and reckless. In a letter that was added to his employee file, two of them described Blakeney as "a firecracker waiting to explode and a lawsuit waiting to happen."
Blakeney eventually settled his suit against the village for an undisclosed amount of money. And in 2010, he landed a job as a police officer in one of the St. Louis area's most troubled municipalities: Pine Lawn.