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O'Fallon, Mo., council weighs impeachment hearing over councilwoman's investigation of former police chief

O'Fallon, Mo., council weighs impeachment hearing over councilwoman's investigation of former police chief

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O’FALLON, Mo. — The O’Fallon City Council is set to vote Thursday on whether to hold an impeachment hearing for a councilwoman accused of lying to fellow public officials and violating the city’s charter by launching an investigation into the police chief.

Impeachment articles accuse Ward 5 Councilwoman Katie Gatewood of committing “malfeasance” by lying to the council about the identity of a whistleblower who raised concerns about former police Chief Philip Dupuis and investigating those allegations without the permission of the city administrator, who oversees city employees.

Gatewood, a former police officer, denied wrongdoing and maintained she was trying to do due diligence.

“I haven’t done anything wrong. If I did, I would’ve admitted to it,” she said at a council meeting last month. “I didn’t lie, I didn’t break any laws, and all I have done is tried to be the best council member for my constituents I can possibly be.”

Dupuis resigned in June after just nine months as chief, publicly citing the “unintended consequences” of a new state law that sought to invalidate federal gun laws in Missouri.

But in his resignation letter, Dupuis also mentioned the “low point” of his 40-year law enforcement career having “someone that sits on council slander my name with untruthful lies.”

It is unclear which specific allegations Gatewood may have been investigating and who brought them to her attention. She could not be reached for comment.

A report compiled in May by a lawyer hired by the city said Gatewood initially raised concerns about Dupuis’ appointment during the hiring process, saying she had heard “several concerns ... brought to (her) by fellow police officers” about potential misconduct.

Dupuis was officially hired in January after serving as interim chief. The report states that an O’Fallon police lieutenant said Gatewood acknowledged to him that the allegations against the chief did not come from multiple police officers but rather a single whistleblower. Gatewood has denied that was what she said, according to the report.

Gatewood’s husband spoke at a City Council meeting claiming to be the whistleblower; the report said he was not.

Gatewood tried to investigate the allegations on her own, the report alleges, by calling multiple public and police officials in Conroe, Texas, where Dupuis worked before being hired in O’Fallon.

In a conversation with one member of the Conroe police department, Gatewood said she was investigating because Dupuis had “aided and abetted” and been involved with potential criminal activity, according to the May report.

Gatewood told a detective she was “trying to gather every piece of evidence that (she) possibly could to go to the council to say, ‘this man needs to go,’” according to the impeachment articles.

A Conroe lieutenant later told Gatewood he knew nothing about the situation to which she was referring, the report said.

Councilman Jeff Kuehn, at a recent meeting, characterized Gatewood’s investigation as an effort to reverse the 7-3 vote to hire Dupuis. He said she had “harassed, maligned, libeled and slandered” the chief over the course of several months.

“I’m looking at actions that are unbecoming of a council person,” Kuehn said. “If I lose a vote, I’m not going to try and change the outcome after the fact.”

Council members voted 7-3 later at that meeting to convene an impeachment hearing committee. Members will vote again at a meeting set for 7:30 p.m. Thursday whether to hold a hearing Aug. 30.

Depending on the outcome of a hearing, Gatewood could be removed from office with a vote of the council, according to the city charter.

The controversy over Dupuis’ hiring was just one part of ongoing unrest in the city’s police department, which will be hiring its third police chief in just over two years.

The first, Tim Clothier, was chosen after a national search, but he resigned in September after just 18 months on the job. It’s unclear why Clothier left.

Last year, O’Fallon paid a combined $1.13 million to four officers who sued city officials and each other in lawsuits alleging age discrimination, efforts by city officials to discredit high-ranking officers and attempts to push out a veteran police sergeant.

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Katie Kull covers public safety for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She previously wrote about local government for the Springfield News-Leader. In her spare time, you can find her cooking, riding horses or spending time outdoors.

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