ST. LOUIS (CN) – A federal judge blasted the St. Louis Board of Police Commissioners for turning “a blind eye” to complaints of excessive force by police officers. U.S. District Judge E. Richard Webber found that the board sustained only one of 322 complaints from 1997 to 2002 – a case in which a Marine Corps veteran said officers beat him during a traffic stop.
Webber delivered his findings in a court order after considering arguments from the board to have the man’s claims dismissed.
“This evidence is sufficient for a reasonable jury to find that the (board is) deliberately indifferent to the risk that officers are using excessive force,” Webber wrote.
Webber also found that board members never requested statistics on brutality complaints or investigations, and asked for internal affairs files only in narrow instances.
He found that the board “either intentionally or unwittingly created an insulating barrier which prevents notice of complaints from reaching the (board). This is tantamount to turning ‘a blind eye’.”
He found that citizen complaints depend upon nonpolice witnesses. Capt. John Hayden, the internal affairs commander, testified in a deposition that he could not recall a single instance of an officer reporting excessive force by another officer or backing up a citizen’s complaint.
The board consists of the mayor and four gubernatorial members. Of the current board members, only Mayor Francis Slay was a board member in 2002.
It’s the latest black eye for the St. Louis Police Department. A recent investigation by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch found a scam in which officers were aggressively towing cars and making it difficult for owners to retrieve them. Some cars were sold and officers were given some for free use, and the towing company involved failed to pay $700,000 owed to city agencies. The towing scandal led to Police Chief Joe Mokwa’s resignation and the FBI is still investigating.