ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — St. Louis County Executive Sam Page said leadership changes are coming to the St. Louis County Police Department in the wake of a settlement in a discrimination lawsuit that cost the county millions of dollars.
A jury in St. Louis County on Friday awarded nearly $20 million to a police sergeant who said he was told to "tone down his gayness" if he wanted to be promoted.
Sgt. Keith Wildhaber filed a discrimination lawsuit against the St. Louis County Police Department, claiming the department repeatedly passed him over for promotions because he is gay.
On Sunday, County Executive Sam Page released a statement on Twitter saying leadership changes would be coming to the police department.
The statement said the changes will start with new appointments to the police board, which oversees the police chief. He said that announcement is "forthcoming."
The full statement is as follows:
"Our police department must be a place where every community member and every officer is respected and treated with dignity. Employment decisions in the department must be made on merit and who is best for the job.
For months, I have been listening to council members, police board members, the police chief, activists and community leaders about the police department's future.
The current police board and current police chief have served the county faithfully for years.
The time for leadership changes has come and change must start at the top. We will begin with the appointment of new members to the police board, which oversees the police chief. An announcement on those appointments is forthcoming. Change must be thoughtful and orderly so that the good police services that our county residents receive are not disrupted."
County Councilwoman Lisa Clancy said she stands by Page's statement, but went a step farther.
"I think that we do need some changes on the police commission and I have gone so far to say that I think that Chief Belmar needs to resign," Clancy said. "It is clear to me that there is a rampant culture of homophobia and also racism. The council hears about this almost every week at our council meetings, but also within the community, that there’s a lot of issues within our police department right now."
The St. Louis County Police Department Board of Police Commissioners is a civilian oversight board consisting of five members. That board reviews operational and conduct policies and has the power to dismiss the chief. It also reviews all external complaints and can make recommendations on officer discipline.
The county charter said only three members can belong to the same political party. They serve three-year terms.
Three of the five members currently on the board have been on the board longer than their three-year term. The other two have terms that expire in November. The county charter said members should continue to serve until their successors have been appointed.
According to the county charter, the county executive appoints new members of the commission who then must be approved by a majority of the county council. They would assume their positions on the board 20 days after being approved by the council.
Clancy said she had other concerns with how the trial played out, which could have ramifications going forward.
"I was concerned by how defensive the chief was about everything, and it sounds like the county prosecutor is going to be looking into potential perjury," Clancy said.
Lawyers for Keith Wildhaber, the sergeant who filed a discrimination lawsuit against the St. Louis County Police Department, released the following statement in response to the settlement:
We are ecstatic for our client, and it has been an honor and a privilege to have been part of this historic verdict. This has been a long and difficult road for Keith. His bravery and courage in standing up for what is right should be an inspiration for employees everywhere. Justice was served in this trial, and no client could be more deserving than Keith. The jury acted as the conscience of the community and spoke loud and clear in its verdict. We sincerely hope that this matter is concluded so that our client can have the closure he deserves.
Editor's note: The author of this story, Sam Clancy, has no relation to St. Louis County Councilwoman Lisa Clancy.