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Tension between Black police officer's group and St. Louis County Diversity leader mounting

Leaders of the Ethical Society of Police say Lt. Keith Wildhaber lacks credentials lead Diversity and Inclusion Unit

CLAYTON, Mo. — St. Louis County Lt. Keith Wildhaber is unfit to lead the Diversity and Inclusion Unit because he lacks the necessary training and experience to do so – not because of his race.

That was part of the message Ethical Society of Police leaders delivered during a live-stream on their Facebook page Monday in which they also accused Wildhaber of lying about how a subordinate officer characterized their communications.

They also expressed concerns that the department did not post the position or allow anyone else to apply for the job.

The organization’s President, St. Louis Police Sgt. Heather Taylor and attorney William Dailey, spoke about their concerns after Wildhaber’s remarks during a Board of Police Commissioners meeting Thursday.

“The Diversity and Inclusion Unit has declared war on ESOP,” Dailey said.

Posted by Ethical Society of Police - ESOP on Monday, July 13, 2020

Wildhaber told the Board of Police Commissioners that Officer Shanette Hall told reporters during a June 22 press conference that he had not met with the organization, which consists of primarily Black police officers. During that press conference, ESOP members said County Executive Sam Page had signed a Memorandum of Understanding acknowledging them as a membership organization within the department after 13 months of delays.

Hall is a board member of the membership organization, which formed a chapter in the county in 2018.

In his presentation to the board, Wildhaber said he met with the organization's leaders at least three times – twice in January and once in February. Some meetings were part of committee meetings and one was just with members of the Ethical Society, he said.

In response to a story about Wildhaber's comments to the Police Board of Commissioners, Taylor furnished 5 On Your Side with video of the June 9 press conference in which Hall told reporters there have been communications with Wildhaber but "not very many."

When pressed as to the reason, Hall replied, "I'm not sure, you will have to ask Wildhaber, you will have to ask him that." Hall said that the organization had reached out to him.

During the same press conference, another reporter asked ESOP attorney William Dailey, “Do you have any frustrations about the fact that you haven’t spoken with Lt. Wildhaber?”

He responded: “I don’t have any frustrations about any of this, I have disappointment.”

During Monday’s live-stream, Dailey noted that Wildhaber went on Facebook calling the organization the “Unethical Society of Police,” and continued his “attack” on the group during the recent police board meeting.

He said Chief Mary Barton and Human Resources Director Carl Becker “apologized” to Hall for “inappropriate remarks” Wildhaber made during the board meeting.

Department spokesman Sgt. Benjamin Granda said Barton and “a member of the Division of Human Resources” did have a conversation with “an individual from the organization” following the board meeting.

“The content of those dialogues can remain between the parties involved unless the member of ESOP decides otherwise,” Granda wrote.

Dailey said the apologies “Only begin to tell the story about what we’re facing in St. Louis County and in the department.”

Former Chief Jon Belmar created the Diversity and Inclusion Unit and appointed Wildhaber to run it in December after a jury awarded Wildhaber $20 million. He sued the department in 2017 alleging that Belmar and his administration refused to promote him because he is gay and retaliated against him after he filed a complaint about it.

Becker, now the county police department's human resources director, served as the county's lead attorney on the case before it went to trial.

The county settled with Wildhaber for $10.25 million, but recently the County Council approved the sale of bonds over a 30-year period that will add about $4.4 million in interest to the county's cost to settle the case. Page’s spokesman Doug Moore said the interest payments will be coming from the county’s general fund.

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