ST. LOUIS • A St. Louis police captain directed officers to disregard evidence and “omit pertinent facts” from a police report during a January 2016 incident, but his actions were worthy of only a written reprimand, not termination, according to the city’s Civil Service Commission.
The revelation is part of the commission’s 14-page opinion in which former Chief Sam Dotson’s decision to fire Capt. Ryan Cousins was overturned. Cousins had appealed the chief’s decision to the commission, which ruled late last month that Cousins should be returned to duty with back pay. The commission did not publicly explain its decision, but the opinion obtained by the Post-Dispatch offers more insight into its reasoning.
Cousins’ firing centered on a burglary call at a home in the Baden neighborhood. The 20-year police veteran was accused of ordering officers to alter reports and release a felon suspected of shooting at would-be burglars at a home there. Police put the man in handcuffs after discovering he was a felon; possession of a firearm by a felon is illegal.
The commission concluded that Cousins did tell officers to disregard a shell casing at the scene and omit from a report the fact that shots had been fired. They said he did it as “an exercise of police discretion not to arrest a crime victim in his home after a call to police for help.” Cousins’ conduct “was not serious enough to warrant dismissal,” the commission wrote.
The commission also agreed with Cousins’ attorneys, who argued that his discipline was more harsh compared with that of white officers involved in unrelated internal investigations. Cousins is black.
The commission also found fault with a letter Dotson wrote to Cousins telling him he was being placed on forced leave partly because underlings feared retaliation after complaining about the incident. There was “no evidence that anyone feared retaliation,” the commission wrote, and it listed 12 examples of white officers not put on forced leave during internal affairs investigations.
Despite the ruling, the department has yet to put Cousins, who was commander of the Sixth District, back to work. The delay has prompted members of the Ethical Society of Police, which represents black police officers, to criticize the department and ask when Cousins will return.
Cousins' attorney, Lynette Petruska, said the commission issued an amended opinion Monday requiring Cousins be reinstated by Oct. 30. She declined to comment any further.
Mayor Lyda Krewson’s spokesman, Koran Addo, said that the situation was a “legal matter” and that the city would have no comment.
Cousins still has a civil lawsuit pending against the city claiming that other officers, most of them white, blamed him to cover up their own offenses. He says officers searched the home without a warrant and questioned the resident they handcuffed without reading him his Miranda rights.
“To cover up their actions and keep Cousins from finding out what they had done, the officers claimed that Cousins told them to file a false police report and not to seize evidence at the scene,” the suit claimed.
It’s unclear whether the commission’s ruling will affect the civil lawsuit.