UPDATED at 3:45 p.m. with comment from new Jefferson County prosecutor.
PEVELY • The police chief here has been put on paid leave over an allegation of domestic assault.
Mayor Stephanie Haas announced Monday night at the Board of Aldermen meeting that Police Chief Charles “Tony” Moutray is off the job.
Haas also announced that the city has hired attorney Greg White to investigate the allegation.
White, who has served as a prosecutor and attorney for Fenton and specializes in corporate law, said after the board meeting that he would “investigate with particularity and precision.”
Moutray, 39, told Jefferson County sheriff’s deputies that he forcefully moved his 42-year-old wife by her neck on Nov. 17 to get his cellphone from her after she discovered he was having an affair, according to a Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department incident report. The encounter happened about 11 p.m. at the couple’s home, according to the report.
Deputies applied for a warrant against Moutray for fourth-degree assault, a misdemeanor, but then-prosecutor Forrest Wegge declined to issue charges.
Newly-seated Jefferson County Prosecutor Trisha Stefanski said Tuesday that "the previous administration declined to issue charges" but if any new evidence come to her attention in the case, it could be reopened.
Moutray’s attorney, Allison Sweeney, said experienced prosecutors had found insufficient evidence to pursue charges.
“The police report is hearsay,” Sweeney said. “It’s an officer’s interpretation of what he was told by the parties.”
Moutray’s wife declined to comment.
Her attorney, Danielle Pelot, said that the indefinite suspension of Moutray was a step in the right direction.
"What message is it sending victims everywhere when the cops who are sworn to protect us are allowed to break the law," Pelot said. "His conduct was immoral, illegal and unnecessary. He should be held accountable."
A social media campaign known as #ChargetheChief has urged its followers to press city leaders to fire Moutray.
About 30 people gathered outside City Hall about an hour before the board meeting to call for Moutray to be charged. They held lighted candles and signs that said, “Stand up for what’s right regardless of who did wrong.”
“I believe there should be the same justice for everybody,” said Dianne Williams, 65, a longtime resident of the Pevely area. “I think the law should apply to everybody, no matter what your position is.”
Ammie Plancarte, 33, a volunteer at a shelter for survivors of domestic violence in Festus called Safe Place, said the lack of charges against Moutray “sends a terrible message” that emboldens abusers and discourages people from reporting incidents of domestic violence, an already difficult process, she said.
“It’s a slap in the face to every woman in the county,” Plancarte said.
Cheryl Summers of Ballwin was one of the organizers of the #chargethechief rally. She said she is a domestic abuse survivor and learned about the allegations against Moutray by reading a blog known Jefferson County Penknife.
“Jefferson County deputies sent a probable cause statement to prosecutors and that tells me some officers on the scene felt there was sufficient evidence,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve heard a compelling explanation from the prosecutor. But there is an opportunity for the new prosecuting attorney to do right thing.”
The chief has already sparred with city aldermen. He sued several of them in March 2018 after they tried to fire him but instead suspended him for three days. In Moutray’s pending lawsuit he accuses aldermen of trying to get rid of him for allegedly using the term “butt-hurt” in reference to the “feelings” of the board after the board refused to approve a budget, which included funds for a police vehicle.
Meanwhile, in July, the city agreed to pay $300,000 to a man who accused Moutray and Pevely officers Kyle Weiss and Brian Benjamin of excessive force in a November 2016 traffic stop, according to a settlement agreement obtained by the Post-Dispatch. Moutray was interim chief at the time.
Robert Golden Jr. fled from the men, who were in an unmarked car and in plainclothes, because he did not know the armed men were officers, according Golden’s attorney J.C. Pleban. He took off until he found a marked Herculaneum police car and stopped. Moutray and the other officers then assaulted him, and Moutray told a Herculaneum officer at the scene to turn off his in-car camera system, Pleban said.
Golden’s mother, Jennifer Golden, was at the rally before the board meeting.
She said the incident and the allegations of abuse against Moutray pointed toward a pattern of violent behavior.
“It needs to stop before it continues on and someone else gets in that kind of situation,” she said. “He’s a violent man and he should be held accountable.”
EDITOR'S NOTE: The article has been updated to correct the name of the city for which attorney Greg White worked as a prosecutor and the month Moutray filed a suit against the city.