ST. LOUIS -- The president of a predominantly black St. Louis police union said Wednesday that the city prosecutor’s lawsuit is correct in pointing out racial concerns in St. Louis, including biases within the police department itself.
Ethical Society of Police President Heather Taylor stopped short of endorsing Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner’s federal lawsuit, but questioned how anyone could ignore the department’s “long history of racial discrimination.”
Gardner, who became St. Louis’ first black circuit attorney in 2017, filed a lawsuit Monday accusing “entrenched interests” of impeding her efforts to reform racist practices, in part by seeking to force her from office. Defendants include the city and the St. Louis Police Officers Association, the much larger rival union to the Ethical Society of Police. While the ESOP has 310 members, 97% of whom are black, the SLPOA has 1,300 members, 30% of whom are black.
Jacob Long, spokesman for St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson, called Gardner’s lawsuit “meritless.” Jeff Roorda, the SLPOA business manager who also is named in the suit, called Gardner “the worst prosecutor in the United States,” accusing her of lenient policies that have contributed to the city’s worst-in-the-nation per capita murder rate.
Taylor said in a statement that denying racial bias within the department is “a slap in the face to minority and non-minority officers with whom we are proud to serve.” She said the union has often cited racial disparities in discipline, promotions, and job placement.
Taylor also cited issues mentioned in Gardner’s lawsuit, including a watchdog group’s report last year that identified several officers accused of posting racist, violent or prejudiced messages on Facebook. The suit also cited a 2017 incident in which a black undercover officer was allegedly beaten by four white colleagues who mistook him for a protester, leading to their federal indictment.
Gardner’s relationship with police has long been strained. She developed an “exclusion list” of more than two dozen police officers who were barred from serving as primary witnesses in criminal cases over what Gardner called credibility concerns, a move that angered Police Chief John Hayden, who is black.
In 2018, she hired a private investigator, former FBI agent William Tisaby, rather than working with police to investigate claims that then-Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens took a compromising photo of a woman during an extra-marital affair. An invasion of privacy charge was eventually dropped, but Greitens, a Republican, resigned in June 2018.
Fallout from the Greitens case continues and Roorda accused Gardner of filing the suit as a distraction. After weighing evidence presented by Special Prosecutor Gerard Carmody, a grand jury last year charged Tisaby with perjury for allegedly lying during a deposition. The indictment said Gardner failed to correct his inaccuracies or report them, and that she made incorrect statements to defense lawyers and a judge. She was not indicted but the investigation remains open.
Gardner’s suit named Carmody and questioned why he was appointed given his long friendship with Edward L. Dowd Jr., one of Greitens’ attorneys.
This story was first published on Jan. 15. It was updated on Jan. 17 to correct that private investigator William Tisaby was indicted by a grand jury that weighed evidence presented by Special Prosecutor Gerard Carmody, and that Carmody didn't bring the charges himself.