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Public Safety Committe questions Hayden about crime

St. Louis Director of Public Safety Jimmie Edwards, (left) and Police Chief John Hayden confer on Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2018, before the St. Louis Board of Aldermen Public Safety Committee meeting in the Kennedy Hearing Room at City Hall. Photo by Christian Gooden, cgooden@post-dispatch.com

ST. LOUIS — Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards thought he had an understanding with Circuit Attorney Kimberly M. Gardner about how officers are added or even removed from her controversial exclusion list.

Then, he said, she changed the rules.

Seven of 22 officers Gardner added to the list on Tuesday fall into a new category: the permanently banned, according to a news release from her office.

And that’s news to Edwards, he said in an interview Wednesday.

“Our protocol is for my review of everybody,” he said. “If we enter into an agreement, I expect it to continue.”

Gardner sent Edwards and Police Chief John Hayden a letter Tuesday announcing that she had added 22 police officers to a growing list of those she has banned from her office. They cannot seek charges against people they arrest, apply for search warrants or serve as essential witnesses in cases.

Tuesday’s expansion of the exclusion list followed recent findings by the Philadelphia-based Plain View Project, which reviewed racist Facebook posts allegedly made by current and former officers in St. Louis and seven other jurisdictions around the country.

Fifteen of the newly added officers on the list, Gardner’s release said, will be “reviewed in accordance with our mutually agreed upon protocol to determine conditions for reinstatement of their ability to present cases.”

That protocol, announced in February, involves Gardner’s office reporting officers she deems to be problematic to police Internal Affairs investigators. Edwards is to review those investigations’ conclusions and share the findings with Gardner so she can decide whether to remove names from the list.

Gardner’s spokeswoman Susan Ryan has not made Gardner available for comment. Hayden’s spokesman, Sgt. Keith Barrett, said only that the department is continuing with its Internal Affairs investigation into the social media posts.

“The department is committed to the investigation we initiated immediately following the publishing of The Plain View Project’s report, through the Internal Affairs Division. We will reserve any comment regarding disciplinary action taken until the completion of the investigation of which all involved officers have been notified,” according to Barrett’s statement.

Ryan, Gardner’s spokeswoman, said Tuesday the addition of the officers brought the total number banned from the office to 59. The list numbered 29 when first reported by the Post-Dispatch last August.

Edwards said that number is “misleading.” He estimates that as many as 40 percent of the officers on the list no longer work for the police department. Some, he said, haven’t worked there since 2007.

“That is a flaw in our agreement, and I’ll have to fix it,” Edwards said. “Once they are no longer police officers, they should come off the list.”

Edwards, a former judge, said he believes judges should make determinations about a police officer’s credibility, but prosecutors have absolute discretion.

“I don’t have the ability to draft a process and impose it on circuit attorney.”

Edwards said he also does not agree with some of the names on Gardner’s list, including a female officer who was banned after screaming, “Oh, my God, I can’t believe you aren’t going to issue that case,” to Gardner’s staff.

“I don’t necessarily agree that officers should not be able to do their job because they’ve raised their voice,” he said. “People raised their voice in my courtroom for years and we always let them come back in and do their jobs,” he said. “But in their minds, she was disrespectful. She’s still allowed to be a police officer, but now her partner has to apply on her cases with the Circuit Attorney’s Office.”

As for the others, they remain on the city’s payroll despite Gardner stripping them of their ability to perform some of the essential functions of a police officer.

“We’re not spending money on a person not doing their job,” Edwards said. “The job is getting done, we just have to do it a little differently.”

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