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‘What are you going to do about the Black guy?’ | Discrimination lawsuit says Page blocked Black commander’s bid at chief

In one conversation, Page told Doyle he was getting “push back” regarding the appointment of a Black police chief, the lawsuit alleges

ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — In the fall of 2019, it looked like the fix was in for St. Louis County Lt. Col. Troy Doyle to become the department’s first Black police chief.

But it all came crashing to a halt when County Executive Sam Page started having campaign contribution problems, according to a discrimination lawsuit Doyle filed Tuesday.

In one conversation, Page told Doyle he was getting “push back” regarding the appointment of an African American chief of police, and that he was “having difficulty pushing this across the finish line,” a phrase he commonly used when referring to Doyle’s appointment to chief, according to the suit.

Ultimately, then Capt. Mary Barton, a white woman with a lower rank, was selected to lead the department to appease campaign donors who did not want to see a Black police chief, according to the suit.

Not long after Barton’s appointment, donations started coming from one or more large corporations or their political action committees, according to the suit.

Sam Page's spokesman, Doug Moore, said the county had "no comment" regarding Doyle's lawsuit.

Months in the making

Doyle filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in July 2020, which granted him the right to sue just last week, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Doyle’s attorney Jerome Dobson released a recording in July of Page telling Doyle: “The board does what I tell them to do.”

Page’s administration then accused the attorney of trying to extort a $3.5 million settlement out of the county.

At about 10 p.m. July 24, Page’s spokesman, Doug Moore, sent Doyle a text message stating: “Troy, I have a great deal of respect for you and am truly dumbfounded that you would do this to a man who really believes in you and fought for you. You have hurt a lot of people. Thought you were a good guy. Do you know how many times I’ve said you are a great guy with an amazing future? I’m really sad that you have treated me this way to extort money from county residents. This is not who you are. Reach deep inside yourself. This is not you. Are you also anti-gay and anti-women despite your talking points? Were you just playing with me, pretending you were cool with gays? My guess is no. You have hurt me and disappointed me. You have no idea how profoundly this hurts me.”

Page has insisted the Board of Police Commissioners selects the chief, and he doesn’t control them. He has appointed four of its five members.

‘The right person for the job’

Doyle, a 28-year veteran of the force, alleges in his lawsuit that Page invited him to his house in 2019 and told him he was “the right person for the job,” “it was the right thing to do,” and that it would be “historic,” according to the suit.

Page and his administration then sent Doyle on a tour of sorts, arranging meetings and phone calls with influential leaders and potential police board members, according to the suit.

Page’s former Chief of Staff Winston Calvert had Doyle talk with former St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson for advice on being a chief, according to the suit.

Doyle also met with Page’s campaign director Richard Callow and Donald Suggs, president and publisher of the St. Louis American newspaper, to get an endorsement, according to the lawsuit.

RELATED: 'When you had troubles, you called on Lt. Col. Troy Doyle': St. Louis County leaders say Black commander was most qualified chief candidate

Page also told Doyle in the fall of 2019 he would be appointing Judge William Ray Price and Michelle Schwerin to the Board of Police Commissioners and had Doyle meet with them ahead of his official interview with the board, according to the lawsuit.

Page told Doyle Price and Schwerin were “impressed” and “liked” him, according to the suit.

No 'need' for a Black chief

In January, Page was lagging behind in fundraising dollars compared to his opponents, according to the suit.

He told Doyle he was having some trouble raising donations and that he was “shocked” at what one or two members of the St. Louis Police Foundation said to him during a foundation meeting regarding the possibility of Doyle’s appointment as chief, according to the suit.

Page told Doyle that he “would have thought” he was “living in the 60s,” based on the comments, according to the suit.

The Police Foundation is a nonprofit that raises money from the business community to fund police-related projects.

It’s also “known to provide significant financial support to the political candidates that they select,” as is true of the group Greater St. Louis, Inc. formerly known as Civic Progress, according to the suit.

“Page and/or individual members of the St. Louis Police Foundation and/or individual members of Civic Progress exerted influence on the Board and/or some of its members to oppose (Doyle’s) appointment to the Chief of Police position and to advocate for the selection of a white person,” according to the suit.

The Police Foundation’s chairman Doug Albrecht sent a statement to 5 On Your Side after a story about Doyle’s EEOC complaint published in July.

It read, in part, “We have not and never will get involved in hiring and personnel issues."

The organization sent an updated statement Wednesday, which read, in part:

"The allegations made about the St. Louis Police Foundation in Lieutenant Colonel Troy Doyle’s racial discrimination lawsuit are untrue. The Foundation has never met with St. Louis County Executive Sam Page regarding the Police Chief position, nor has he ever attended any of our board meetings. Furthermore, we have never communicated with him either verbally or in writing about the Police Chief position."

RELATED: Discrimination tied to campaign contributions, police board corruption among allegations in complaint filed by Black St. Louis County police commander

Members of the Missouri Black Caucus also called Doyle asking to meet with him. On Feb. 23, 2020, Page asked Doyle to ask Rep. Shamed Dogan, a member of the Black Caucus, whether Dogan could get his donors to make financial contributions to Page’s campaign, according to the suit.

Dogan, a Republican, represents part of District 98 in the Missouri House of Representatives. His district includes parts of Ballwin, Ellisville, Fenton and Wildwood.

The suit does not indicate whether Doyle followed Page’s orders, and Dogan has said he’s exploring the idea of running against Page.

In his lawsuit, Doyle also notes how up until the 2020 selection for police chief, only those who held the rank of lieutenant colonel and above could apply to become the department’s top cop.

But the Board of Police Commissioners changed the qualifications to allow candidates from the rank of Captain or above to apply to become chief, according to the suit.

Doyle’s only formal interview with the board lasted 20 minutes, according to the suit.

“A white member of the Board stated, when discussing (Doyle’s) candidacy for the Chief of Police position, that (the county) did not ‘need’ a black Chief of Police,” according to the suit.

At the time, the only white members of the board included Price, Schwerin and Mark Gaertner.

On March 19, 2020, the Board of Police Commissioners named Barton as the department’s new chief.

“(Doyle’s) race and/or his opposition to racially discriminatory conduct within the St. Louis County Police Department was the motivating factor in (the county’s) decision not to select him for the Chief of Police position,” the lawsuit states.

Now what?

After that, Page and members of his administration including Calvert, still acting as Page’s chief of staff, tried to offer Doyle various jobs within county government, including the creation of a Director of Public Safety position to oversee the police department, according to the lawsuit.

“(Doyle) was not interested in these efforts and perceived these overtures to be an effort to buy him off,” the lawsuit states.

Not long after Barton’s appointment, Price, who had become the police board’s chairman, asked Doyle to serve as the liaison between the police department and the consulting group Teneo, according to the lawsuit. Members of the business community belonging to the group formerly known as Civic Progress hired Teneo to review the police department.

Page also called Doyle about the liaison role, and when Doyle said he wasn’t sure the police board would approve it, that’s when Page told him the board does what he tells them to do, according to the lawsuit.

When Doyle told Page he accepted the liaison role in June, Page joked about how members of the group paying for the review would react once they heard Doyle would be serving as the liaison on their project, according to the suit.

“Page told (Doyle) he couldn’t wait to see the faces on the two Civic guys who asked Page what he was going to do about the Black guy and they hoped Page didn’t make him chief,” according to the lawsuit.

Doyle filed his racial discrimination complaint with the EEOC a month later.

Other lawsuits pending

Doyle’s lawsuit is the third discrimination lawsuit filed within the past year against the county police department by Black police commanders.

In December 2019, Doyle recommended then-Chief Jon Belmar appoint Lt. James Morgan as the commander of the TACT Unit, according to Morgan’s lawsuit.

Morgan is the president of the Ethical Society of Police, a membership organization for primarily Black officers.

Instead, Belmar issued an order freezing all transfers, but then lifted the ban to transfer Doyle out of Special Operations and into a more administrative role and replaced him with a white commander. Belmar also appointed a white commander to lead the TACT Unit.

In his lawsuit, Doyle alleges Belmar deviated from department customs because he did not move all of the lieutenant colonels into different roles at the same time as had been done before.

Doyle also alleges his transfer moved him out of a position that had routinely served as a gateway to becoming chief and reduced his ability to rank higher in the chain of command to run the department should the chief be absent or incapacitated, according to the suit.

And not listening to Doyle’s recommendation for Morgan to lead the Tactical Operations Unit also strayed from common practice, as it was customary for the commander of Special Operations to recommend who should lead that position, according to the suit.

Lt. Ray Rice filed a discrimination lawsuit against the department, too.

In his lawsuit, he alleges Belmar also discriminated against him because he is a member of the Ethical Society of Police, and transferred him out of the Special Response Unit to a graveyard shift in west St. Louis County after he started voicing his opinions about racial issues.

Ethical Society of Police statement:

"This lawsuit by Lt. Col. Troy Doyle and the allegations within exemplify systemic racism at its highest levels leveraged by corporate backers and their foot on the neck of progress.

We call on citizens to hold their elected official, County Executive Sam Page, a self-proclaimed “progressive” who ran on a Diversity and Inclusion platform, and the Board of Police Commissioners accountable for their role in the selection of a chief who has demonstrated remarkable ineptitude and lack of commitment to lead against racism.

We've consistently highlighted incidents of racism, discrimination and abuse of power. We've outlined the specific steps needed for change. It’s time for the citizens at large, also including those who endorsed Sam Page, to join the fight.

We encourage the public to contact the Board of Police Commissioners and the office of Sam Page to demand making substantive changes to address systemic racism in the St. Louis County Police Department and our community a top priority."

Statement from Rep. Shamed Dogan:

"Like all St. Louis County residents, I was outraged to learn the latest details of Lt. Col. Troy Doyle's allegations of racial discrimination and retaliation at the hands of County Executive Sam Page, including Page's refusal to support Doyle because of the objections of unnamed donors who didn't want to see an African-American police chief. For the record, Lt. Col. Doyle never obeyed Page's request to approach me about asking my donors to contribute to Page. 

This is more evidence that Sam Page has continued Steve Stenger's playbook of corruption. Asking a member of law enforcement to fundraise for the County Executive in order to receive a promotion is a shocking abuse of power. This type of corruption has no place in government and I call on these very serious allegations to be investigated by the Missouri House."