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St. Louis police chief orders probes after officer gets racist letter

St. Louis police chief orders probes after officer gets racist letter


EDITOR'S NOTE: The St. Louis police officer named in this story, Darren Wilson, is not the officer involved in the fatal Ferguson shooting of Michael Brown on Aug. 9, 2014:

ST. LOUIS  • Police Chief Sam Dotson ordered internal and criminal investigations after a black officer in the department’s south patrol division received a racist letter through interdepartmental mail.

“I’m frustrated and disappointed,” Dotson said of the letter, which came to his attention early last week.

The typed letter arrived in a sealed white envelope with the receiving officer’s name on it inside a public mailbox for his district about a month ago. Laced with profanity and a racial epithet, it read: “You black (expletive). We want you out of our station. We want your black (expletive) dead. (Expletive) your medals. If an aide call comes out for you WE WON’T RESPOND. KILL YOURSELF (expletive) OR WE WILL. Respectfully, South Patrol.”

Dotson said the act could be considered a hate crime. He said he has taken steps to ensure the officer’s safety, but declined to be specific.

“In an abundance of caution, I wanted to do everything I could to reassure him that we were taking this seriously,” he said.

He also issued a department-wide email Friday, which read in part: “Let it be known that racism or discrimination of any kind will not be tolerated within our police family. If any member of this department ... engages in this type of activity, they will not have a place here with us.”

The First, Second and Third districts report to the south patrol station, at 3157 Sublette Avenue. Between 18 and 30 percent of officers in each of those districts are black. Dotson said he does not believe the letter is reflective of the entire patrol.

“It’s targeted at a specific officer, but what we want to make sure is that it’s not rampant,” Dotson said.

The Ethical Society of Police, which represents African-American police officers, issued a letter to its members Tuesday, pledging to meet with African-American police commanders within the next week to express concerns about the lack of diversity among high-ranking officers in south patrol.

The group’s president, Sgt. Darren Wilson, said the highest-ranking black officer in the south patrol is a lieutenant. Wilson said a lack of minority commanders may have created an environment where someone felt comfortable enough to put a racist letter to an officer in a public mailbox.

“Our members have asked me, ‘What are we going to do to get a little more diversified down here? We’re uncomfortable,’” Wilson said.

Wilson said the officer who received the letter hesitated to come forward because he felt intimidated working in an environment where the commanding officers “didn’t look like him.”

“Do I believe this is reflective of our department? I’d like to say no, but this is scary,” Wilson said. “This has shown that it has the potential to be more prevalent than we think or would imagine it being.”

Wilson said his organization is “confident” in the chief’s initial response and so is the officer, who is also a member of the Ethical Society.

“But we’re going to follow this every step of the way to find who is responsible and hold them accountable,” Wilson added.

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Christine Byers is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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