ST. LOUIS • Two city police officers face discipline, and possible criminal charges, over handling of marijuana seized during a traffic stop last month while two state senators were riding as observers in a camera-equipped patrol car, department officials said Tuesday.
Sens. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, and Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City, were with officers in north St. Louis. Chappelle-Nadal was researching a firearms-related bill she is sponsoring. Both told a reporter they did not think the officers did anything wrong.
The incident occurred about 8:23 p.m. Feb. 15 near Page Boulevard and Blackstone Avenue, after the officers stopped a vehicle for a traffic violation. They learned the driver was wanted on several arrest warrants from previous traffic citations.
A female officer can then be seen on video taking a small amount of marijuana from the suspect’s pocket and putting it in her own pocket before she and her partner let him go, Chief Sam Dotson said.
Police officials said they do not know where the marijuana went; the officer never entered it as evidence, Dotson said.
After the officers returned to the car, Nasheed can be heard on the recording accusing the officer of stealing from the man, Dotson said. The officer then explains herself.
“The officer talks about having discretion and that, ‘We’re focused on violence and identifying individuals with guns committing crimes, and this man had a little amount of marijuana and minor warrants and did not have a significant history of violence.’ So she made a value judgment,” Dotson said. “It’s clear that law enforcement officers have to use discretion in their activities and use it daily, but the question is, were the department’s polices and procedures followed?”
Dotson said he has no reason to believe the officer pocketed the pot “for personal use.” The department’s investigation is to determine the disposition of the seized item, he said.
Dotson said the department discovered the incident during routine reviews of patrol car videos. Police will now consult with the circuit attorney’s office to determine whether criminal charges might be warranted. Dotson said the department requires officers to catalog any seized evidence, and the officer could have issued the suspect a summons.
The summons would still require the officer to arrest and book the suspect.
“If this officer had followed our processes and procedures, we wouldn’t be having this conversation,” Dotson said.
The department would not release the names of the officers involved, citing the ongoing investigation. One is a woman, 27, with two years of service; the other a man, 28, with three years. Both remain on full duty.
The internal affairs charges against the officers are conduct unbecoming, failure to act and improper handling of evidence.
As far as Chappelle-Nadal is concerned, the officers didn’t do anything improper.
“It was a confiscation,” she said in an interview Tuesday in Jefferson City. “I was with two amazing officers who did their jobs well. The officers were wonderful.”
Chappelle-Nadal said she had ridden with city police several times to research her bill. Dotson had suggested, as a courtesy, that Nasheed, who represents a neighboring district, join her.
Chappelle-Nadal declined to comment further, saying internal affairs investigators have asked her to make a statement, which she plans to do today.
Nasheed said in an interview that she saw the officer take the marijuana from the suspect and thought the officer put it in her pocket. But she said she didn’t think the officer did anything wrong and wasn’t aware of the internal investigation before speaking to the Post-Dispatch on Tuesday.
Nasheed said it was her first ride-along and that the night included the apprehension of an attempted carjacker.
“I had a newfound respect for police officers,” she said.
She noted, “If the police officer did anything wrong, I’m sure Chief Dotson will do everything in his power to make any wrong right.”
Elizabeth Crisp of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.