ST. LOUIS — St. Louis Sheriff Vernon Betts said he is “pissed off” that city attorneys settled a retaliation lawsuit one of his deputies and political opponents filed against him for $70,500.
“I’m not real happy about the way it turned out,” Betts said. “I wanted to go to court because he has no justification for this, but the attorneys wanted to settle.
“I look at it as my reputation is at stake. And to me and my family, if you settle, there must have been something there.”
John Castellano III, who is white, alleged in a 2017 lawsuit that Betts, who is Black, violated his own promotional policy to promote two black deputies to sergeant over Castellano.
In the lawsuit, Castellano alleged the two candidates were less qualified than him.
Betts said Castellano’s racial discrimination lawsuit did not move forward in state or federal court, so Castellano sued him for retaliation, alleging Betts was refusing to promote him because he filed the lawsuit.
Castellano was Betts' Republican opponent in the 2016 election. Betts is a Democrat.
“I didn’t retaliate against him then,” Betts said. “He got his job back.”
In his deposition, Betts said, “It would make no sense to promote somebody that is giving you all kinds of hell,” that those he promoted were “not angels” but did what Betts asked of them and never had any issues or concerns with Castellano’s job performance.
Castellano’s attorney, Lynette Petruska, said her client was seeking about $5,000 in lost wages, but walked away with much more.
“Obviously it shows they knew they did something wrong, even though they always deny it in their settlement agreements,” she said. “We’re pleased it’s settled because this allows the city to address more pressing problems that are facing it instead of using resources for a trial.
“I understand this is difficult because the sheriff is an elected office, but the city and city counselors office have got to do a better job of showing this is serious and it’s got to stop.”
5 On Your Side reached out to the city attorney's office. A spokesperson for the office said the office had no comment.
Petruska has made headlines for several settlements she has reached on behalf of Black and white St. Louis police officers who have alleged they, too, were passed over for promotions and or disciplined unfairly because of their race. The firm lost a case involving a Black St. Louis police commander who said she was denied a promotion because of her gender.
Betts said the city’s actions set a bad precedent for others to sue him and noted another deputy has already filed a discrimination complaint against him with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. That’s the first step toward filing a lawsuit.
“Next time I have a lawsuit, I will hire Scott Rosenblum,” Betts said of the high profile criminal defense attorney. “I’m not happy with the way this turned out at all.
“I tried to tell the lawyers, I’ll have another clown do the same thing and sure enough, another deputy has filed a discrimination complaint against me. A Black guy.”