ST. LOUIS COUNTY • For months, he's been known only as "Lonewolf" — the name he signed on a series of anonymous letters alleging a veteran police lieutenant ordered officers in the St. Louis County Police Department's South County precinct to target African-Americans at shopping destinations there.
On Tuesday, Sgt. Daniel O'Neil revealed his name publicly in a complaint filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission — the first step toward filing a discrimination lawsuit against the police department, which O'Neil says has targeted him ever since learning he wrote the letters.
Those letters triggered an internal investigation, and Lt. Patrick "Rick" Hayes was fired in May. He has denied the claims of profiling and vowed to defend his job. Meanwhile, O'Neil has been on medical leave for stress since April 22.
"The stress of knowing everyone there wants your head has turned me into a nervous wreck," O'Neil said in an interview Tuesday with his attorney, Jerome Dobson, present.
O'Neil's complaint to the federal agency includes allegations of "unwarranted write-ups" and complaints put inside his personnel file, an impromptu drug test, revocation of his take-home car and a transfer out of the district closest to his home — actions that took place in "rapid succession" after O'Neil revealed his identity during the internal affairs investigation into Hayes' conduct, Dobson said.
"One would think that a department would thank a veteran officer for his courage to blow the whistle on this wrongdoing rather than harass him with this trumped up discipline," Dobson said. "They have created this atmosphere of intimidation in the department. Who's going to want to come forward after seeing what happened to Dan?"
Police Chief Tim Fitch declined to comment on O'Neil's allegations specifically, but spoke to routine department policies and said he's "confident" the department's rules have been followed throughout all aspects of the investigation.
"We will not litigate personnel matters in the media," he said.
O'Neil's anonymous letters, which began arriving in the chief's office in December, alleged that Hayes ordered officers to arrest blacks in and around the South County Shopping Center as well as a nearby Walmart. Both Hayes and O'Neil are white.
O'Neil said he waited months before coming forward through anonymous letters because Hayes often boasted of his connections to top commanders.
"I had no intention to take the police department down," O'Neil said. "But these things had to be stopped. When a black person can't go shopping at a mall, it's wrong. ... This isn't 50 years ago."
|Lt. Patrick “Rick” Hayes|
Other officers corroborated O'Neil's claims during the internal investigation, which determined Hayes violated department policies when using “inappropriate racial references” while issuing the orders. He was fired May 13. No officers followed racially-based orders, Fitch says.
Fitch plans to enlist a team of researchers from the University of California Los Angeles’ Consortium for Policing Leadership in Equity to study the department’s arrest data to ensure racial profiling isn’t occurring. The group offers the analysis for free thanks to grant funds, according to its website. O'Neil's attorney said anecdotal information and an examination of arrest data will back up O'Neil's claims of racial profiling.
Hayes has called the department's investigation "flawed," and said officers conspired against him after he disciplined them for unrelated matters. Hayes has asked for a trial before the Board of Police Commissioners to get his job back, a process that could take months.
It could also take months for O'Neil to hear whether he has enough grounds for a discrimination lawsuit.
THE 'LONEWOLF' REVEALED
O'Neil revealed his identity as the "Lonewolf" to internal affairs investigators during the first week in February.
On Feb. 28, his lieutenant wrote him up for "failure to supervise," saying he should have gone to a scene to supervise officers. In April, he said he was written up for entering incorrect codes on payroll documents.
During his more than 20-year career with the force, O'Neil said he has only been written up once, for misplacing his badge.
"I asked my new lieutenant why I was being written up for these things, and he said 'You've got a target on your back,'" O'Neil said.
In March, O'Neil said he was ordered to take a drug test, and was told it had to be taken within two hours.
Fitch said the department's policy requires officers to take random drug tests within a certain time frame so an officer can't try to delay so drugs or alcohol can leave their systems. Fitch said even he is subject to the tests.
O'Neil said two sergeants showed up at his house two hours after he put in his medical leave notice to claim his take-home car and watched him clean out the patrol car with their hands on their pistols.
"All of my neighbors came out and watched like I was some type of criminal," O'Neil said. "Is this normal for someone who is calling in sick?"
Fitch again wouldn't speak to the specifics of O'Neil's situation, but said officers who take medical leave are routinely stripped of their take-home patrol cars while they are out, Fitch said.
As for O'Neil's claim he has been shipped to a far-away precinct, Fitch confirmed that Lt. Col. Kenneth Gregory transferred O'Neil on May 5, but said O'Neil's new assignment has yet to be determined.