This project was completed with the support of a grant from Columbia University's Ira A. Lipman Center for Journalism and Civil and Human Rights in conjunction with Arnold Ventures.
Tony Weaver leaving the federal courthouse downtown in June. Former coworkers say he diligently worked to remove a serial harasser from the county jail's staff.
A corrections sergeant's serial sexual harassment was allowed to continue unabated for years at the St. Louis County Jail, according to internal documents given to the Riverfront Times
A 73-page report into the conduct of Aaron Mitchell outlines accusations against him by four women, as well as email evidence of improper communication between Mitchell and more than a dozen others.
The accusations from the four women span five years, from 2016 to 2021, though there is indication that Mitchell's practice of sexual harassment likely began earlier. Mitchell was employed by the county jail from April 2001 until being placed on suspension last October.
One female county jail employee told internal investigators that in 2019 Mitchell frequently came into her office without being invited. He "physically backed her into a corner behind her desk." At one point he unzipped his pants and pulled out his penis, the report states. On another occasion, Mitchell bent down and whispered in the woman's ear, "What's under your dress?"
Another female coworker accused Mitchell of exposing himself to her in a breakroom three years prior. This employee told a superior about what happened, though the report doesn't indicate any disciplinary action occurred.
A third female coworker accuses Mitchell of attempting to kiss her and a fourth accuses him of making frequent advances and consistently asking her for her phone number.
received no reply from Mitchell after contacting him via email and calling multiple phone numbers listed as his.
The internal investigative report into Mitchell also includes a cache of emails Mitchell sent to female coworkers in which he wrote things like "I'm horny" and "I am truly in love with you. "
The coworker to whom Mitchell sent the latter message at one point emailed Mitchell, "[Y]ou are completely crossing ALL boundaries."
The report zeroes in on a handful of specific days of Mitchell's emailing. On January 11, 2019, for example, the investigators wrote, "You sent or received 205 emails from your work account. Of the 205 emails, one was work related."
One of the women who accused Mitchell of harassment spoke to the RFT
, but asked that we not print her name.
"At times, he would touch me like he was trying to help me fix my uniform, but he was almost groping me," she says.
"The supervisors, the administration that was in place, kept sweeping it under the rug," she goes on. "I would tell certain people things that he would say or ways he would act towards me, and they would tell me, 'You could say something, but it won't go anywhere.' That's what they always said."
She adds that it was understood nothing was going to happen because Mitchell was "tight with the administration, going along with that whole family dynamic that they have."
Multiple individuals involved in county jail operations and reform have spoken to the RFT
about "the Family," a group of administrators and employees at the jail who cover up for each other and block efforts to hold staff accountable.
The jail employee who spoke to the RFT
anonymously says that she acutely sees the Family's influence at work in the jail. Some people not in the Family get in trouble for minor infractions whereas people in the family, like Mitchell, seem to get away with egregious violations.
"You'll see some people get in trouble for things that aren't really a big deal," she says. "But then you'll see lieutenants and captains are still there after they release detainees [into the public] that they weren't supposed to release."
The Reverend Phillip Duvall has been attempting to blow the whistle on the Family publicly since May when he resigned
from the St. Louis County Justice Services Advisory Board. The board had been formed in 2019 as a response to inmate deaths in the jail. But after two years, Duvall quit in frustration, saying that efforts at reform were being stifled by the Family.
A lawyer who has sued the jail on behalf of inmates previously told the RFT
the Family was a "power clique" all about protecting their jobs.
"They're above accountability. No discipline is meted out to them," the lawyer said. "It's like how the mafia has protection rackets. It's like an internal protection racket, where if you're part of this group, you're internally protected from discipline."
An individual familiar with the inner workings of the county jail said that back in 2002, Mitchell's second year on the job, a female detainee alleged that Mitchell brought a male detainee in to have sex with her, and then forced her to perform oral sex on him.
This source said that Mitchell was "disciplined" for this, but was eventually "restored" and allowed to return to the jail, ultimately working his way up to the rank of sergeant.
Duvall says that when he was a member of the advisory board he did his own looking into Mitchell. After Mitchell was restored, Duvall alleges, "he came back and picked up where he left off." Duvall believes Mitchell was able to do that because "he was part of the family."
The Tony Weaver Connection
The woman who was harassed by Mitchell said that when Tony Weaver was appointed by County Executive Sam Page as the jail's "change management coordinator" in December 2019 things began to change, albeit slowly.
She says that when she reported the harassment to Weaver, an investigation into Mitchell began.
"Tony Weaver just kept telling me things were gonna change — that certain people, you're gonna look up one day and they won't be there. It's going to be a more comfortable environment," she says.
Officially, the report is authored by Justice Services Director Scott Anders, but many aspects of it indicate that Weaver had extensive involvement in collecting the information that formed its basis.
The name Tony Weaver is now familiar to many St. Louisans, but for reasons that have nothing to do with his work reforming the county jail.
Weaver was indicted in federal court in June
for helping a businessman fraudulently apply for COVID-19 relief funds in exchange for a cut of the money. Weaver allegedly spoke openly about the scheme with an individual wearing a wire, the same individual whose recorded conversations led to the indictment of three St. Louis aldermen
Weaver has longstanding connections to the politically prominent family of former Councilwoman Rochelle Walton Gray. He previously worked as an aide to Gray before she lost her seat. At that point, Page hired him on to work in the jail — and nearly doubled his salary, to $82,500
Last month, the Post-Dispatch reported
on emails sent from Deputy Jail Director Darby Howard to the jail's personnel director accusing Weaver of trying to solicit “negative information” from jail staff. Howard's emails also accused Weaver of “defaming” corrections officers.
Jane Dueker, a candidate for county executive who hopes to replace Sam Page, was quoted in the Post-Dispatch slamming Page for Weaver's "abuse of power."
Weaver's attorney, Timothy Smith, issued a statement in response defending Weaver's work at the jail.
"Weaver worked with the Justice Center Advisory Board and played a key role in communicating internally and externally about issues and initiatives impacting the County Justice Services employees," the statement read in part.
Duvall says that Weaver was hated by the Family because he was at times an effective check on their power.
"He was able to uncover lots of things because those corrections officers and employees that were being harassed and mistreated, they would share stuff with him. As would inmates," Duvall says.
Both Duvall and another individual with close knowledge of jail operations say that in his first ten months leading the jail Anders has done his best to combat the Family's influence.
Anders became acting director of the jail on October 1. Later that week, after more than two decades on the job, Mitchell was suspended without pay.
He was formally fired earlier this year.
The woman who spoke to the RFT
anonymously says, "Everybody was breathing a sigh of relief, knowing that he wasn't there."