Hartmann: St. Louis County Police Commander’s Lawsuit Lays Bare Racism | Hartmann | St. Louis | St. Louis News and Events
I was unable to serve as an impartial juror in Lt. Col. Troy Doyle’s racial discrimination lawsuit against St. Louis County.
The scorching allegations in the lawsuit, published last week by Attorney Jerome Dobson, are just that – allegations – and the defendants’ lack of response is not an implicit admission. That is why there is a judicial system.
But when you know a lot of players and backgrounds – either in person or through the news – it’s impossible to pretend to have an unbiased viewpoint. What happened to Doyle is more than believable: it’s both an affirmation and an indictment of systemic racism in the county in general, and in the police department in particular.
And it shows that County Executive Sam Page is not at all what he claims to be a politician. At best, Page has betrayed the talk that St. Louis County’s pay-to-play is a thing of the past. In the worst case, he is not up to his job.
The overarching facts are pretty clear. Doyle sought to become police chief to follow Chief Jon Belmar’s failed lead. Doyle had a proven track record of skill and leadership with the county police for nearly three decades. For his fleeting merit, Page understood this.
The lawsuit includes Doyle’s incredible résumé, including four promotions, experience with elite FBI task forces, a strong track record in police-community relations, and more. If anything, what is well known about Doyle is underestimated: he was the point of contact for several chiefs in tackling some of the county’s toughest police challenges, from Jennings to North St. Louis County to jail.
So Page deserves credit for his initial propensity to campaign for Doyle to become a boss. It was the obvious call. Page’s support was documented on a recording released by Dobson last July. Page’s words that “the police department will do what I tell them” were unequivocal.
However, this was only the early part of a compelling schedule set in Doyle’s court records. If anything, Page advocated a mistake on the part of Doyle: If, as alleged, he had actually arranged meetings for Doyle with prospective Police Headquarters William Ray Price and Michelle Schwerin before he even appointed them, it would have been grossly inappropriate .
I suppose you can’t blame Doyle for visiting Price and Schwerin on Page’s orders, but you can certainly blame Price and Schwerin for attending such a meeting and Page for organizing it. Page’s predecessor, Steve Stenger, might have done something like that. And if he did, Page would have gone ballistic as chairman of the district council.
Although county executives are well known to have traditionally influenced the selection of police chiefs – and a chief is not known to have been hired over an objection by a district chief – the Board of Police Commissioners is still an independent entity. Page doesn’t seem to believe that.
It is one thing for Page to arrange meetings with members of the business community or other influencers. Having well-connected lawyers is a far cry from soliciting board members – or potential board members – with secret meetings with candidates. That is a far cry from the district leadership, which appeases the members themselves.
The biggest irony is how unfair this was initially to Chief Mary Barton when she was Chief Candidate Mary Barton. Any candidate for a position as important as the chief of police should expect a measure of fairness and impartiality from the police force.
But it turned out that Barton wasn’t such a victim after all because something seems to have changed Page’s mind. This is where the lawsuit gets particularly intriguing, as Page allegedly wanted to raise campaign funds for his 2020 election, which led him to turn to funding sources who, in turn, were not good at hiring Doyle.
Doyle’s lawsuit seeks to tie the dots between Page’s need to please influential donors and his resulting difficulty in getting Doyle “across the finish line”. That brings us to the St. Louis Police Foundation, a nonprofit dominated by business elites who support law enforcement efforts in the area. Again, the question of whether or not you buy the lawsuit depends not least on whether you can imagine the business elite in St. Louis cracking down on the idea of a black police chief. I can.
Now they would neither say it publicly nor abstractly oppose the idea. But the combination of a black prosecutor (who the county has in Wesley Bell) and a black chief of police and a growing crime problem with harsh racial overtones and an ongoing concern about the race of whites in the surrounding counties, well! I can see someone in power asking, “What are you going to do with the black guy?” and after he said, “We don’t need a black police chief.”
I can also see that Page has played both sides against the center like the politician he is. I can see he’s fine, granting requests from corporate benefactors and turning around to tell Doyle that he was appalled by the terrible racism of everything. Both could well have happened.
That’s the stuff that needs to be resolved in legal process. Perhaps the case will be settled, even though Dobson told me that District Councilor Beth Orwick had previously “turned down” an offer to settle it. But Dobson is one of the best lawyers in town, so all he could do was negotiate.
What’s non-negotiable is this: St. Louis County ended up with the wrong police chief. Barton was apparently a good cop and could have the best of intentions. But to describe them as unsuitable for their current position would be a serious understatement.
This is a woman whose first big moment on stage was answering a softball question about systemic racism in the police department just weeks after the murder of George Floyd. Her denial that it exists – instead of perhaps saying that it is a problem everywhere and she is committed to addressing it – was a surefire sign that messaging wasn’t her forte.
In contrast, Doyle is remarkably communicative, as anyone who follows his job will know. Not only was he superior to Barton and had dramatically better police skills, he is strongest where she is weakest in representing the police in the community. The key element of a police chief’s job – whether in the media, in the black community, or elsewhere – lies in Doyle’s sweet spot. And it’s above Barton’s pay grade.
So we have to wait and see how the lawsuit develops. But the return is already in relation to that Page has yet another dire moment in his relationships with the black community. He really blew this one.
One of the most amusing side effects of the lawsuit is allegation that Page asked Doyle to ask Rep. Shamed Dogan, R-Ballwin, if his campaign donors could help Page. Dogan, one of the best and smartest lawmakers in Missouri (and the only black Republican), issued a statement saying it did not.
It turns out that Dogan is seriously considering running a run against Page for the district administration. If the election was tomorrow, he would be the easy choice on his own. But put another way, if Page’s race and police records were brought to justice, I could not serve as an impartial juror.
Ray Hartmann founded the Riverfront Times in 1977. Contact him at [email protected] or catch him on the Nine Network on Thursdays at 7 p.m. and in Donnybrook on KTRS (550 p.m. Monday through Friday from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m.).