Officer Steven Blakeney Terrorized the St. Louis Area. Why Did No One Stop This Very Bad Cop?

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Officer Steven Blakeney Terrorized the St. Louis Area. Why Did No One Stop This Very Bad Cop?
ILLUSTRATION BY KELLY GLUECK

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click to enlarge Pine Lawn Alderwoman Rosalyn Brown joined the fight against the city's police and mayor after cops hauled her and her daughter from their home. - PHOTO BY DOYLE MURPHY
PHOTO BY DOYLE MURPHY
Pine Lawn Alderwoman Rosalyn Brown joined the fight against the city's police and mayor after cops hauled her and her daughter from their home.

Blakeney's enemies soon began to multiply.

After arrests, his fellow officers would wait until he was out of earshot and then mention to suspects they might want to contact a lawyer or file a report against Blakeney with a larger agency. A few cops say they went to the FBI with their own concerns. The Justice Department, too, was becoming curious about Pine Lawn.

Rosalyn Brown says she didn't pay much attention until May 2014, when Blakeney literally brought the issue to her door. The father of Brown's daughter was a longtime adversary of Mayor Caldwell, and she says Blakeney led a crew of police to her home one day in search of him.

Brown, who had been working on a college research paper, tried to explain that only she and her daughter lived there, but that just seemed to anger him.

"We were caught in the crosshairs," she says.

Brown was arrested for failure to comply, cuffed and dumped in the back of a squad car. She says police took her phone and had her young daughter call the girl's father, hoping to lure him back to the house. When that failed, they put the girl in the squad car and hauled them both down to the station. Meanwhile, code enforcement officers wrote more than 30 citations on the house, which was owned by the girl's father.

Brown describes the incident as "humiliating" but says it sparked her to become an advocate.

"Once I started talking, I just didn't shut up," she says.

She found support in others who'd opposed Caldwell and Blakeney. She began to meet with Earl Metts Jr. and his wife, Cheris. Metts had been fighting against abuse in Pine Lawn since the 1990s. An Army vet and retired airport worker, he'd once campaigned for Caldwell but says the mayor broke his promises when he got into office.

When Metts was dragged out of his car and arrested one day, the 83-year-old was positive it was political payback. He and his wife had helped form a coalition called the Concerned Citizens of Pine Lawn, and now they used its voice to contact state and federal officials.

Brown wrote a 30-page letter that was mailed in 2014 to a string of officials and agencies, including the Pine Lawn Board of Aldermen, state Attorney General Chris Koster, Secretary of State Jason Kander and the FBI.

Koster sent a letter to St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch, but Brown says they didn't hear anything more on that front. The FBI, though, seemed very interested. Brown says they had a meeting within three days.

The FBI had been poking around Pine Lawn for a couple of years. Blakeney's ex-wife, Amanda Blakeney, says they contacted her in 2011 or 2012, shortly after the couple separated. They wanted to know about drugs and possibly corruption involving a towing service used by Pine Lawn, she says. (The FBI declined to comment.)

At first, she and her fiance, Mike Krupp, didn't want to meet with agents. They worried the agents were actually allies of Blakeney fishing for information. But eventually they decided to cooperate.

Amanda Blakeney was in the midst of a horrific divorce and custody battle for the former couple's two young boys. She claims Blakeney was abusive during their nearly five years together. During one fight, she says, he pinned her to the ground, took their son's pacifier and tried to shove it in her mouth.

"We went through the ringer, time and time again," she says. "It was terrible."

She was granted restraining orders, including one that prevented Blakeney from carrying a gun outside of work. Blakeney responded by filing complaints against Krupp, alleging he was abusing the boys. The complaints were always dismissed, but Krupp would have to move out of the home he shared with Amanda Blakeney and the kids for a few days and spend several thousand dollars on attorneys to clear things up.

The custody battle stretched over several years as they cycled through judges and endless motions. Nothing seemed to persuade the courts that the case was anything more than a he said/she said dispute. Not even a court-ordered drug test that showed Blakeney tested positive for cocaine in 2012 could close the matter.

"We've just felt like we've been the victim through all this," Krupp says. "There's been no protection for us."

Krupp had also begun to write letters, sending packets of information about Blakeney to Pine Lawn officials and the state Department of Public Safety, among others.

Then, in September 2014, Blakeney lost his protector in Pine Lawn when Mayor Caldwell was arrested by the FBI. Investigators had caught him taking bribes from a towing company, camouflaging the payments by asking for cups of Mountain Dew "full of foam."

Blakeney was fired three months later. Two more women, one of them a St. Charles police officer, had come forward to accuse him of drugging them. They claimed they ran into Blakeney at a bar, and the last thing they remembered was him buying them a round of shots. They woke the next morning at his home in Oakville.

Blakeney, they said, called an on-duty officer to pick them up and drive them home. The officer, Paul Rinck, knew the St. Charles cop from the academy. He later told city officials he'd been ordered by Blakeney to escort him and the women between bars, and then to Blakeney's house.

When the women woke at 4 a.m. and demanded to go home, Blakeney again called up Rinck to drive them, Rinck said.

The women are now suing Pine Lawn and Blakeney. He has denied drugging them, and he claims the allegations aren't the real reason Pine Lawn fired him. In his own lawsuit against the city, he says he was an FBI informant against Caldwell. The firing, he says, was political payback.

He was still out of work in August 2015 when FBI agents came for him, too. Federal prosecutors indicted him for violating the civil rights of Nakisha Ford-Smith and falsifying the arrest paperwork. He was convicted in January, and after a string of delays, appeared in federal court in October for sentencing.

click to enlarge Steven Blakeney (left) speaks with longtime friend Lawrence Fleming on October 5 outside of the federal courthouse in St. Louis. - PHOTO BY DOYLE MURPHY
PHOTO BY DOYLE MURPHY
Steven Blakeney (left) speaks with longtime friend Lawrence Fleming on October 5 outside of the federal courthouse in St. Louis.

During a hearing that spanned two days, witnesses described Blakeney going after them in a full rage for perceived traffic violations. A young college student said he screamed at her, threatened to dump her in the ghetto and used her thumb to unlock her phone and send text messages to her boyfriend.

An Army captain, who is also a lay minister, claimed Blakeney threw him onto the hood of a car with such force his shoes came off. Once the captain was locked up in the station, Blakeney held up a copy of his license and told him, "I know where you live," the captain said.

Harris, the assistant U.S. attorney prosecuting the case, told the judge Blakeney has never admitted any wrongdoing.

"He's not above the law," Harris said. "There are consequences for his illegal acts, and he needs to be shown that."

Attorney Matthew Radefeld took over Blakeney's case for the sentencing, but he's read all the transcripts and is generally familiar with the allegations lodged against his client over the years. He attributes the bulk of them to the fact that people don't like to be pulled over or arrested. They like it even less when the police officer is an in-your-face kind of guy, like Blakeney.

"He was a hard-ass cop," Radefeld tells the RFT. "He was the type of cop that when you got pulled over, there was just no way you were going to talk your way out of a speeding ticket. He was a hard-ass."

Radefeld notes that the college student and Army captain were both part of a group of people represented by longtime civil rights attorney Stephen Ryals, who sued Pine Lawn and collected a total of more than $1.3 million after alleging abuse at the hands of Blakeney. The city's insurer, Missouri Public Entity Risk Management Fund, never seriously challenged any of their claims, Radefeld says.

"MOPERM just opened up the checkbook and started writing checks," he says.

The fund's executive director, Larry Weber, says there was plenty of evidence to justify paying out the claims and the fund conducted a defense to the full extent of the law.

Ryals, who is now part of a Justice Department unit that investigates police departments, declined to comment, citing his new position.

Judge Stephen Limbaugh Jr. sentenced Blakeney to 46 months in prison, giving him credit for five months of house arrest. He denied Radefeld's request to let Blakeney go home and surrender later.

"I hope you redeem yourself," Limbaugh told Blakeney as two deputy U.S. marshals approached.

Dressed in a dark suit and blue tie, Blakeney glanced back at his parents, turned around and put his hands behind his back. The deputies closed the handcuffs on his wrists and led him away.

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