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2 St. Louis County police lieutenants file racial discrimination lawsuit

So far this year, three Black police commanders have filed discrimination lawsuits against the department

ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — Two St. Louis County police lieutenants have filed a lawsuit against the department alleging they were denied opportunities to advance their careers because they are Black.

Lt. Ray Rice and Lt. James Morgan filed suit Thursday in St. Louis County. Both are high ranking members of the Ethical Society of Police, a membership organization that represents primarily Black officers. Morgan is its president and Rice is the community liaison.

“As part of their involvement with ESOP, plaintiffs repeatedly raised concerns to Chief Belmar about systemic racism in the St. Louis County Police Department and opposed and objected to specific discriminatory acts directed toward African American police officers,” according to the lawsuit.

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They are the second and third officers to file lawsuits against the county so far this year alleging race discrimination.

Attorney Jerome Dobson is representing all of them.

“This just goes to show there is systemic racism in the St. Louis County Police Department,” Dobson said.

The St. Louis County Police Department referred questions to the County Counselor's Office.

County Counselor Beth Orwick responded with a statement: To my knowledge, the County has not been served and I have not seen the court filing. As this is pending litigation, I am unable to comment."

The lawsuit outlines a bit of musical chairs in which transfers initiated under former Chief Jon Belmar’s administration led white officers to get positions Rice and Morgan either had, or for which they had been recommended.

Morgan was transferred from the Central County Precinct to the Wildwood Precinct Jan. 27, 2019 because of “alleged inappropriate conduct the defendant knew plaintiff Morgan did not engage in,” according to the lawsuit.

In April 2019, Morgan went back to being a watch commander in the Central County Precinct “without explanation,” according to the lawsuit.

In mid-December 2019, Lt. Col. Troy Doyle recommended Morgan head up the Tactical Operations Unit. Instead, Belmar told Doyle he was suspending all transfers.

Weeks later, on Jan. 10, Belmar transferred Doyle to the Division of Operational Support from the Division of Special Operations and replaced Doyle with Lt. Col. Jeffrey Bader, who is white.

Doyle was the first to file suit against the police department earlier this year.

His replacement in Special Operations then moved Lt. Jeremy Romo, a white lieutenant to the Tactical Unit from his post in the West County Precinct.

“The decision to not select plaintiff Morgan to be the commander of the Tactical Operations Unit was a deviation from the police department’s standard procedures because the department normally transferred the lieutenant who was recommended by his lieutenant colonel to be the commander of the Tactical Operations Unit,” according to the lawsuit.

Belmar’s administration then filled Romo’s vacancy in the West County Precinct with Rice, who, up until that point had been heading up an elite division known as the Special Response Unit.

Under Rice’s leadership in 2019, the SRU made 358 felony arrests, 94 misdemeanor arrests, seized 99 guns, saw the feds issue 54 of its cases, and spent 257 hours on community outreach. During that year, the SRU received only one citizen complaint, according to the lawsuit.

When Rice left the SRU and arrived in West County, Lt. Juan Gomez, who had less seniority than Rice was given first dibs on a shift of his choosing – another deviation, according to the lawsuit.

“Even though defendant’s standard practice was to give the officer with more seniority the more desirable shift, defendant placed plaintiff Rice on the midnight shift and placed Lt. Gomez on the day shift,” according to the suit.

Chief Mary Barton was the Captain of the West County Precinct at the time. Rice claims she told him “it was not her decision,” when he asked if he could move to the day shift, “even though the commander of a precinct typically has the authority to make those type of decisions,” according to the lawsuit.

Rice’s white replacement at the helm of the SRU was recently transferred out of the unit.

And replaced by Morgan.

“If he is good enough now to lead the SRU, why wasn’t he good enough a year ago to lead the tactical unit?” Dobson asked.

Dobson called the transfers involving his clients “geography lessons,” – a phrase coined during the 2019 trail in which then Sgt. Keith Wildhaber claimed he was being passed over for promotions because he is gay.

In his case, he was transferred to a midnight shift in a precinct far from his home once he filed his EEOC complaint.

Following the $20 million verdict in Wildhaber’s favor Oct. 24, 2019, Belmar created the Diversity and Inclusion Unit. Wildhaber got his promotion to lieutenant and is now the new unit’s commander.

Dobson points out that about a month after Belmar pledged to have the unit and the department committed to rooting out discrimination of any kind, his clients became the department’s newest victims.

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