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Byers' Beat: Former St. Louis cops in the news; gay officer to stay with diversity unit

Three former city officers charged with crimes in recent weeks and St. Louis County Police Lt. Keith Wildhaber says he's backed off transfer request
Credit: Keith Wildhaber
Lt. Keith Wildhaber

ST. LOUIS — St. Louis County Police Lt. Keith Wildhaber is staying put as commander of the Diversity and Inclusion Unit – despite objections by the Ethical Society of Police.

It’s a membership organization for primarily Black police officers, and its leaders believe Wildhaber’s personal experience with discrimination doesn’t make him qualified for the job.

Wildhaber believes the organization has objections to his leadership because he is white.

He blasted the organization’s leaders at a recent police board meeting, saying that he has met with them at least three times since the formation of the unit despite their public comments during a press conference to the contrary.

Wildhaber told me his unit tried to meet with the group following the police board meeting.

“They felt the time wasn’t appropriate to meet,” Wildhaber said.

Wildhaber said the tension came to a head for him last week when he announced on his personal Facebook page that he was requesting a transfer out of the unit, which formed after a jury awarded him $20 million in October. He filed a discrimination lawsuit against the department, saying he had been passed over for promotions because he is gay and retaliated against for complaining about it.

He said the “constant attacks on social media” pushed him to request the transfer, and that a member of the Ethical Society filed an internal complaint against him. He didn’t name the member and said he doesn’t know what the allegation is against him.

“I’ve heard from officers across the department that were disappointed that I was considering leaving the unit and voiced support for me staying with it,” he said, adding that some of his supporters are ESOP members.

This week, he announced on his Facebook page he was staying put after meeting with Chief Mary Barton and Deputy Chief Ken Gregory.

“The chief expressed she was happy with the direction the unit was going and liked the proposals we were making and she felt that I was capable of leading the unit forward,” he told me. “I can’t pay attention to the distractions right now and we need to continue moving forward to better the department.”

“We will continue to try to meet with the ESOP and hopefully we can come to some middle ground and work together for the betterment of the department.”

Former SLMPD officers in the news

Three former St. Louis police officers have made headlines in recent weeks, and not in a good way.

St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell charged Matthew Schanz after police say he deliberately stood in front of a car that was trying to flee and shot at the driver.

Schanz worked for the St. Louis police department from October 2009 through August 2016, and he also made headlines on his way out.

Former Chief Sam Dotson fired Schanz in 2014 after police say Schanz, then 26, got into a fight with his domestic partner while both men were drinking and then refused to stop for police who had their lights and sirens on while trying to stop him. He appealed the discipline to the city’s Civil Service Commission, which overturned Dotson’s termination and said he should be given a 20-day suspension instead. The matter ended up in court, which sided with Dotson’s ruling.

Schanz was working for the Velda City Police Department at the time of his most recent run-in.

This week, two more former St. Louis police officers were charged with crimes.

The feds indicted Ellis Brown, saying he repeatedly kicked a “compliant suspect.” Brown was one of the officers involved in the shooting of Kajieme Powell, who was threatening him and another officer with a knife in August 2014. The shooting was captured on a bystander’s cellphone and happened just days after Mike Brown was killed by a police officer and just a few miles away.

Brown was a police officer for St. Louis from 2008 through 2017. Then Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce declined to charge Brown and the other officer for the Powell shooting.

He was working for St. Ann at the time of the incident now in question.

His attorney, Jim Towey, tells me he finds it hard to believe the suspect was compliant at the time his client used his foot to gain control of him and that the man’s girlfriend told police she believed he was armed.

“He’s using the lowest end of force on the continuum, this was a resisting situation,” Towey said.

Towey also noted there is a video of the incident, that he has yet to see.

Also this week, Bell charged Sean Liddell with domestic assault after police say he struck his 10-year-old son with a belt, leaving bruising and abrasions.

Liddell was once featured in a Riverfront Times article about a recruitment program sponsored by the Ethical Society of Police.

He worked for the St. Louis Police Department from 2014 through 2015.

He has been suspended without pay by the St. Louis County Police Department since this week’s charges were announced.