ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — 5 On Your Side has obtained a recording of the St. Louis County police radio where a dispatcher is heard using a racial slur.
In the 29-minute recording, the dispatcher is heard receiving and relaying messages over the radio. About 19 minutes into the recording, the dispatcher can be heard taking a deep breath before saying "f------ n-----s".
There were several seconds of dead air before and after. After about 15 seconds, someone comes on the radio saying "be advised dispatcher your key is stuck open."
Earlier in the week, a source familiar with the investigation told 5 On Your Side's Christine Byers that the dispatcher is related to St. Louis County Police Chief Mary Barton. The dispatcher is also scheduled to retire soon, according to sources familiar with the dispatcher.
The dispatcher in question was immediately suspended and Barton recused herself from the investigation, putting it in the hands of her deputy chief, Kenneth Gregory.
In the days since the incident was first reported, local and national organizations spoke out about it and called for the dispatcher to be fired.
Lt. Keith Wildhaber was among those who reacted to the story. After providing a statement about the incident to 5 On Your Side, the St. Louis County Police Association said Barton summoned Wildhaber to a meeting with Human Resources Director Carl Becker, who "verbally admonished" him. Wildhaber, who was serving as the commander of the Diversity and Inclusion Unit, requested a transfer from the unit following the meeting.
“Now, this very important unit is left without a commander during a critical time in which the department must work diligently to heal and regain the trust of the community,” wrote police union Executive Director Joe Patterson.
The Ethical Society of Police, a membership organization that represents primarily Black officers, issued a statement regarding the department's treatment of Wildhaber for speaking out.
It mentioned Wildhaber's discrimination lawsuit in which he won a $20 million jury verdict in 2019. In his suit, he claimed former Chief Jon Belmar and his administration passed him over for promotions because he is gay.
"As much as we are outraged that Chief Barton and members of her leadership team would target Lt. Wildhaber for speaking out against racism, so should every tax-paying citizen of St. Louis County. It is obvious that the awarding of a multimillion-dollar settlement for previous discrimination was not a deterrent for the continued behavior. This should serve as further evidence of the department's consistent tactic of denial, cover-up, silence and/or punish those who speak out. One would think that a Police Board with four of its five members being attorneys would know better. We are calling on the Board of Police Commissioners to take a leadership role, exercise the responsibility of their positions and end this madness of intolerance and intimidation within the St. Louis County Police Department."
The department's Diversity and Inclusion Unit rolled out at the start of 2020. Sgt. Ben Granda confirmed it's implemented a number of new programs and protocols like reviewing policies including those for complaints, grievances and discipline. He said the unit expanded cultural competency and awareness programming and implemented implicit bias training, as well as other measures.
But just months ago, Chief Barton stated she does not believe systemic racism exists, leaving many to question whether real change can happen in the department.
William Dailey, an attorney for the Ethical Society of Police, said firing the dispatcher would be a good first step, but: "Before there can be action, there has to first be acknowledgment of an issue."