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'An aberration': St. Louis public safety director blames officers for releasing COVID-positive domestic violence suspect

Police union leaders say mayor's office is to blame for suspect's release.
Credit: UPI
St. Louis Interim Director of Public Safety, Dr. Daniel Isom walks to talk to reporters about the recent uprising in the cities Criminal Justice Center in St. Louis on Sunday, August 1, 2021. For the second time in four days, inmates got out of their cells and caused a disturbance inside the jail. Now, officials are temporarily moving some inmates to another facility that was recently closed. The riots this week total five times within the last year that inmates have freed themselves from their cells. Fires were set and windows broken, earlier this year. Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI

ST. LOUIS — St. Louis Public Safety Director Dan Isom is calling for an internal investigation after he said a “poor decision” by police officers allowed a domestic violence suspect to be released because he was positive for COVID-19.

It's an error police union leaders have insisted was the result of a policy from the mayor’s office.

In his weekly press briefing about downtown safety, Isom called the suspect’s release on Jan. 4 an “aberration.”

“We do believe this was a poor decision in terms of allowing this person to leave,” he said. “This person should have been held; there is no policy suggesting this person should have been released.”

An internal police department memo obtained by the I-Team and issued eight days after the man’s release shows an officer’s supervisor “can release an arrestee per their authority.”

Isom called the memo “administrative” and unrelated to the release of the domestic violence suspect.

The St. Louis Police Officer’s Association is also pushing back against the mayor’s office about how COVID-19-positive arrestees are handled.

Police union attorney Jane Dueker has taken to social media accusing Mayor Tishaura Jones’ administration of having a policy that forbids police from holding virus-positive arrestees, and her decision to do so is political.

Dueker has suggested Jones’ administration wants to keep the jail population low to empty one of the city’s jails known as The Workhouse. Closing that facility was among Jones’ campaign promises, but female prisoners remain there months after Jones cut funding to the facility and moved arrestees to the downtown jail known as the City Justice Center (CJC).

“There is no such directive,” Isom said.

Internal COVID-19 memo

In his press briefing, Isom also said the person should have been held. 

"There is no policy suggesting this person should have been released," he said. "A person must get a 'fit for confinement' at a hospital if they are COVID positive and the Justice Center must hold them."

He noted there are areas inside the downtown jail where COVID-19-positive inmates are housed.

 “Let me be absolutely clear, COVID-19-positive individuals have been and continue to be booked at the CJC... Corrections works consistently with police, the sheriff and hospitals to make sure the proper determination is made when accepting violent offenders. Corrections does not determine whether a prisoner is held or released from custody. That’s the job of the police, judges and prosecutors. When the above three determine an individual should be booked, charges filed and a warrant issued by the court, Corrections must hold them.”

The I-Team obtained an internal police memo sent Jan. 12 outlining the police department’s policy when it comes to arresting COVID-19-positive suspects.

Isom insisted the memo had nothing to do with the release of the suspect.

That policy directs officers to contact their chain of command when dealing with a COVID-19-positive arrestee and outlines two ways in which to do so:

“1. The officer’s supervisor may have the arrestee released per their authority.”

“2. The officer’s supervisor may decide they would like the offender held. If this is the case, they will need to take the arrestee immediately to the hospital for a fit for confinement. While the officers are at the hospital with the arrestee, the officer’s chain of command needs to contact the Commissioner of Corrections and receive approval to house the arrestee in the Justice Center. This is done by contacting the Chief of Police who will need to contact the Commissioner to request approval.”

The memo concludes: “Do not release arrestees without the approval of the arresting officer’s chain of command, sergeant or above.”

Domestic violence suspect released

The suspect in question is Mac Payne. He was arrested Jan. 4 after police sources familiar with the investigation said he scalded his wife with boiling soup.

He has been charged with two counts of domestic assault, which are felonies.

Isom said Monday the officers involved in his original arrest determined he should be released before charges were ever filed and a warrant was issued by the courts.

“This individual was never in the custody of the Corrections Division,” Isom said. “Having discussed the matter with Chief Hayden, SLMPD has opened internal investigations into the circumstances around this issue and the officers involved that made the decision to allow this person to go free.

“We will make sure there is accountability in this matter. We will continue to look at how this poor decision came to be, work to keep up our work in reducing violent crime in St. Louis, and I appreciate the work of the SLMPD officers who worked to secure this individual’s arrest on Friday night.”

On Monday, a judge set Payne's bail at $20,000, but will allow him to post 10% of that amount. Should he do so, he will be placed on GPS monitoring and allowed to only report to work or his attorney's office.   

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