St. Louis, MO – The St. Louis mayor said she couldn’t appoint a new police chief because she “only had two white male candidates to choose from” at the same time the city is defending itself against a lawsuit by a white police official who said he wasn’t made chief because of his race.
St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones said on Jan. 4 that the process behind the search for the city’s next top cop had been flawed and that she wanted to toss it out and start from scratch, The St. Louis American reported.
“I only had two white male candidates to choose from and St. Louis is more diverse than white males, our police department is more diverse — there were a lot of diverse candidates within the police department who were kicked out of the first round so I want to start over to find the right candidate,” Jones explained.
The mayor’s reasoning was shocking to many because the city of St. Louis is currently being sued by a white assistant police chief who has alleged he was passed over for the top position once before because of his race.
St. Louis Metropolitan Police Lieutenant Colonel Lawrence O’Toole, an assistant chief, served as acting chief of police for seven months in 2017 during a tumultuous time following the acquittal of former St. Louis Police Officer Jason Stockley who had been charged with killing a drug dealer, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
Stockley’s acquittal sparked violent protests in the city and in St. Louis County, and law enforcement was criticized for their use-of-force on rioters.
The application process for a new police chief opened and closed a month after the verdict.
Lt. Col. O’Toole had applied for the police chief position but was ultimately passed over for another candidate from inside the department with less seniority and fewer commendations, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
He then filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Missouri Commission on Human Rights that alleged racism in the selection process and the state commission granted him the right to sue.
Lt. Col. O’Toole filed a lawsuit against the city and the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department (SLMPD) in May of 2020 that claimed St. Louis Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards told him, “If Jason Stockley didn’t happen, you would be the police chief.”
The lawsuit is seeking compensatory damages in excess of $25,000, prejudgment interest, and attorney fees, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
When SLMPD Chief John Hayden announced in September of 2021 that he planned to retire from the police force on Feb. 23, the city launched a search for his replacement, KSDK reported.
Last time, the city hired an outside consultant to find and choose the final candidates for chief of police, according to The St. Louis American.
But when Chief Hayden announced his retirement, the city’s personnel director, Rick Frank, determined that his department would choose the next police chief.
Sources told The St. Louis American that the city’s personnel department had rejected the majority of the 30 nationwide applicants and had administered a written test to only two of the candidates from within SLMPD.
Applicants were required to have a bachelor’s degree and at least 10 years of experience as a captain or higher-ranking official, KSDK reported.
That cut the pool of eligible internal candidates to just four, and of those, only Lt. Col. O’Toole and SLMPD Lieutenant Colonel Michael Sack applied and took the test.
Both Lt. Cols. O’Toole and Sack are white, according to KSDK.
Frank’s office said external candidates had been invited to apply but hadn’t shown up to take the management test that was part of the application process.
Sources in the mayor’s administration told The St. Louis American that Frank’s office refused to offer a virtual version of the management test to the other four police chief candidates who were from out-of-state.
Frank resigned from his position last month.
The mayor told The St. Louis American in January that she needed to find an interim personnel director and then she would start the entire police chief search over.
“There were flaws in the current process and we promised the community an open and transparent process, and this is not that,” Jones said.
On Tuesday, KSDK reported that Chief Hayden was going to postpone his February retirement and stay at the helm of the police department until his replacement was found.
The mayor’s office released a statement shortly after the news leaked.
“Today, St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department Chief John Hayden announced his intention to remain with the force past his original February retirement date,” Jones’ statement read. “The search for the next police chief is still underway.”
Then the statement went on to defend her earlier remarks about chucking the prior executive search, KSDK reported.
“The Mayor does not have unilateral authority to restart the police chief search herself,” the statement continued. “That is up to the Department of Personnel and the St. Louis Civil Service Commission. The Mayor’s hope for the people of the City of St. Louis is that there is a fair and transparent application process to select the most qualified candidates.”
“She views the Civil Service Commission’s concerns about the lack of virtual testing and marketing firm as valid,” the statement concluded.