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Fallout from racial slur uttered by St. Louis County police dispatcher continues

Calls for immediate termination continue as the dispatcher remains suspended

ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — The fallout from a St. Louis County dispatcher's use of a racial slur across open police radio airwaves Saturday now includes criticism about how Chief Mary Barton is handling racial tensions within her department and continued calls for the dispatcher's termination.

The dispatcher in question was immediately suspended and is related to Barton, 5 On Your Side has learned. Barton has also recused herself from the investigation, putting it in the hands of her Deputy Chief, Kenneth Gregory.

5 On Your Side has also learned the dispatcher in question is close to retirement and has worked for the department since 2004.

Meanwhile, membership organizations including the Ethical Society of Police, which represents mostly Black police officers, the police union and individual police commanders have condemned the dispatcher's actions and called for his termination.

But firing the dispatcher is the "easy part," according to William Dailey, an attorney for the Ethical Society of Police. 

He said the real test for Barton has yet to come, and, her handling of the concerns from Black officers so far hasn't gone well. 

Chief Barton came under fire in the summer of 2020 after telling the St. Louis County Council she did not believe there was systemic racism in the department.

“I think to say that there’s systemic racism in the police department is overly broad and probably not accurate,” she said at the time.

Dailey said a letter the Ethical Society sent to Barton with recommendations on how to improve race relations has also gone unacknowledged, and aspects of a recent study known as the Teneo report also found flaws with the department's handling of race-related issues. 

"Before there can be action, there must first be acknowledgement of an issue," Dailey said in an interview with 5 On Your Side Monday. "Everyone in the department and I think everyone in the community are likewise devastated to see or to know something like this would occur."

Three Black commanders have filed lawsuits against the county within the past year, all alleging discrimination by county police and the county administration.

Among them is Lt. Col. Troy Doyle, who has alleged in a lawsuit County Executive Sam Page picked Barton, who is white, over him because he is Black and Page's campaign donors didn't want a Black man to lead the department.

Doyle posted a comment on Twitter Saturday with a link to 5 On Your Side’s story about the dispatcher.

It read: “How can we ever expect to gain community trust when we continue to have incidents such as this. I feel sorry for the many officers who had to endure this pain and the disrespect that this language brings to our community. Immediate termination is recommended!”

Barton issued a statement Saturday, too. 

It read: "A racial slur was used on the police radio by a professional staff member serving as a dispatcher. That individual was immediately removed from the radio and relieved of duty. An internal investigation into the matter has been opened. As I have said in past, discrimination, by word or deed, shall not be tolerated by any of us in the St. Louis County Police Department. We have, and will continue, to hold one another accountable.”

She followed up Sunday with: “The use of such language has no place in our department; therefore, it should not and will not be tolerated. Each member of our department family and every citizen we serve shall be treated with dignity and respect. The investigation will be thorough, impartial, and overseen by the Deputy Chief of Police.”

Dailey said Barton's statements aren't enough.

"True leadership exemplifies itself in the face of adversity," he said. "Most people objectively think termination is the route to go, but what’s going to happen next?

"I think that’s the start. The hard part is going to be those conversations with the supervisory personnel to say, 'We can no longer tolerate this within the department.'"

The St. Louis County Police Association has also issued a statement condemning the dispatcher’s actions.

“We are aware of the racist language that was broadcast over the police radio this evening. We are appalled. There is no place in modern society for these racist epithets. Chief Barton needs to take swift action and terminate the employee from the police department. We have a history of speaking out in these situations and will continue to do so.”

The police union also denounced a trainer who uttered racial slurs while teaching a course at the police academy in 2020. That trainer has since been fired.

Lt. Keith Wildhaber, who leads the department's Diversity and Inclusion Unit, sent a statement Saturday to 5 On Your Side. 

It read: “This type of language is disgusting and has no place in our department or in society. Immediate and decisive action must be taken by department leadership. We cannot continue to deny there is systemic racism and discrimination in our department. It’s time to dismantle it.”