Police diversity chief requests transfer in racial slur spat

CLAYTON, Mo. — The head of a St. Louis County police diversity unit has been admonished for speaking to the media about a county dispatcher who used a racial slur over a police radio, and he plans to resign the post, a union leader said.

On Sunday, Lt. Keith Wildhaber told KSDK-TV that department leadership needed to take “immediate decisive action” in response to the slur.

“We cannot continue to deny there is systemic racism and discrimination in our department. It’s time to dismantle it,” Wildhaber told the television station. The dispatcher has been relieved of their duties while an investigation is conducted.

Wildhaber was called to a Human Resources meeting on Monday during which he was “verbally admonished” for his comments, Joe Patterson, executive director of the St. Louis County Police Association, said in an email Wednesday to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Chief Mary Barton ordered him to stop talking to the media.

Wildhaber, who was named to lead the Diversity and Inclusion Unit in 2019, immediately requested a transfer, Patterson said.

“Now this very important unit is left without a commander during a critical time in which the department must work diligently to heal and regain the trust of the community,” Patterson said.

Police said in a statement that department policies limit employees’ ability to speak to the media.

“The department’s leadership is evaluating the best way for the unit to move forward and fulfill its mission,” the statement said. Patterson said the union will represent Wildhaber in any police disciplinary action.

On Wednesday, the Ethical Society of Police, which represents minority officers, criticized the department’s treatment of Wildhaber.

“This should serve as further evidence of the department’s consistent tactic of denial, cover-up, silence and/or punish those who speak out,” the statement read.

Last year, Wildhaber reached a $10 million settlement in a lawsuit that contended he was discriminated against because he is gay. Wildhaber, who is white, also threatened to resign as leader of the unit in July, saying he was a victim of racism.

— The Associated Press

Man who posted threatening video sentenced to prisonEL PASO, Texas — An El Paso man who posted a video online threatening to kill Black Lives Matter protesters has been sentenced to nearly two years in federal prison, officials said.

Manuel Flores, 43, was sentenced Tuesday to 21 months in prison after pleading guilty last year to posting a threatening communication over the internet. He’s been in custody since his arrest in June, the El Paso Times reported.

In the video, Flores displays an AR-15-style rifle and said it was his “dream” to kill Black protesters who had gathered in response to George Floyd’s death last year.

“During this time of polarized political discord, peaceful protest is an important right that must be safeguarded and those who threaten to harm others, commit acts of violence, destroy property or attack law enforcement must be held accountable for their criminal behavior,” U.S. Attorney Gregg N. Sofer said Tuesday in a statement.

According to court records, Flores was remorseful and apologetic when he was questioned by agents and said he’d been drinking when he posted the video and didn’t recall making the threats.

— The Associated Press

North Carolina trooper under investigation for BLM commentRALEIGH, N.C. — The North Carolina State Highway Patrol is investigating one of its troopers following a social media post in which he described the Black Lives Matter movement as a “racist money laundering hate group.”

Master Trooper Mark Melvin posted the comment to Facebook in December. It’s since been deleted, WRAL reported Tuesday. On Monday, Melvin was placed on administrative duty while an internal investigation continues.

A message left on a phone number listed for Melvin was not immediately returned Tuesday.

First Sgt. Christopher Knox, a spokesman for the North Carolina Highway Patrol, confirmed that an investigation was underway.

“We take any report of wrongdoing by our members very serious and we are assuredly looking into the matter,” Knox said, adding he could not provide additional details.

The station also reported that Melvin tagged himself on Facebook as present at the U.S. Capitol siege and posted pictures. Previously, he also said on social media that he would not enforce the curfew ordered by North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper in response to spiking coronavirus cases.

Melvin is a 13-year veteran of the Highway Patrol who works in the Person County area. Local residents shared his social media posts with WRAL, the report said.

The patrol issued a new code of conduct in 2010 under then-Gov. Beverly Perdue. It calls on troopers to “avoid any conduct that might compromise my integrity and thus undercut the public confidence in the North Carolina State Highway Patrol.”

Also, the code of conduct calls on troopers to “perform all duties impartially, without favor or affection or ill will and without regard to status, sex, race, religion, political belief or aspiration. All citizens will be treated equally with courtesy, consideration and dignity.”

— The Associated Press

3 campus police officers fired following stop of Black teenHUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Three police officers from the University of Alabama at Huntsville were fired following a review of a traffic stop where a Black teen was asked if he had drugs or a dead prostitute in his car, officials said.

Interim Police Chief Steven Anderson said a review of the October incident led to the termination of the former police chief, a captain and the officer involved in the traffic stop, the school announced Tuesday.

Anderson was appointed interim chief Oct. 22, news outlets reported.

The teen’s mother, Chanda Crutcher, posted her concerns about the incident on social media.

Crutcher said her 17-year-old son was traveling home from work on the evening of Oct. 3 when he was stopped by the officers for what was said to be a cracked tail light. Crutcher, who said she watched body camera video of the traffic stop, wrote that her son’s vehicle was then searched.

Her post said one officer referred to her son as “brother” and asked him several times if he had drugs “or a dead prostitute” in his car.

School President Darren Dawson apologized two days after the post, stating the “words and actions” of campus police during the traffic stop “do not represent who we are as an institution.”

On Tuesday, the school echoed the sentiment, adding that officers have received extra training in “identifying implicit and explicit bias, de-escalation techniques (and) community policing.”

The officers’ names were not immediately released.

Venue change request denied for trial in Alton Sterling suitBATON ROUGE, La. — A judge in Louisiana has rejected a change-of-venue request in a civil lawsuit over the death of Alton Sterling, a Black man who was fatally shot by a white police officer in 2016.

Judge William Morvant’s decision on Monday means a trial that was scheduled for March 1 will remain in East Baton Rouge Parish, The Advocate reported.

Parish Attorney Andy Dotson filed a motion seeking the change after the governing council in Baton Rouge rejected a proposed $5 million settlement for the 2017 wrongful death lawsuit filed on behalf of Sterling’s five children, marking the third time the council has failed to pass a settlement.

Dotson had asked for the trail to be moved to a parish with a “similar ethnic mix for a jury pool,” while lawyers for the city of Baton Rouge have argued the local jury pool has been influenced by media coverage about protests on police brutality, a claim that received pushback from Morvant.

“The test isn’t going to be: ‘Have you heard anything about this’?” he said. “I think if we go anywhere within the four corners of this state that’s going to be pretty hard to do.”

In the motion, Dotson also accused attorneys for the plaintiffs of leaking information and asked the judge to hold them in contempt of court for violating a “gag order” about the case. One of those attorneys, Chris Stewart, called the accusation “borderline defamation.”

The lawsuit names the city, its police department and former police chief and two officers. It alleges the shooting fit a pattern of racist behavior and excessive force by the Baton Rouge Police Department and says poor training and inadequate police procedures led to Sterling’s death.

Former Baton Rouge police officer Blane Salamoni shot Sterling six times outside a convenience store on July 5, 2016. Sterling, 37, had been selling homemade CDs. Officer Howie Lake II, who is also white, helped wrestle Sterling to the ground, but Lake didn’t fire his gun. Footage of the incident was spread on social media, leading to widespread protests.

Internal investigators for the police department concluded Salamoni had used excessive force. He was fired in March 2018, but an August 2019 settlement allowed him to withdraw his termination and resign retroactively instead. Authorities did not file criminal charges after an investigation.

Morvant said he would consider another request to move the trail if they’re unable to find jurors who haven’t formed an opinion about Sterling’s death.

— The Associated Press

— The Associated Press

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