There’s an old saying in police work: “If criminals weren’t stupid, we’d never catch them.”
Ironically, the same is true of the St. Louis police officers who degraded the reputation of the entire department and insulted 54 percent of the city they’re supposed to serve and protect by smearing racist, bigoted and violent posts all over Facebook for years: Their arrogance, entitlement and stupidity led them to think they’d never be caught.
Some tried to use phony names, not realizing that the Facebook URL linking to their pages listed their real names. Some used their real names, not thinking that a group such as Philadelphia’s Plain View Project could ever use a deep-search algorithm to search for current and former police officers who used racist content and images.
And apparently, none of them ever thought there would be consequences, either from the public, the media or their bosses, since this is St. Louis, where everyone is supposed to yawn and say, “So what else is new?” when confronted with evidence of racists in uniform.
Admittedly, it took city officials more than 48 hours to act after The Northsider/Southsider published the first in a series of exclusive articles starting a week ago revealing 416 Facebook posts from current or former St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department officers that featured white nationalist, pro-militia, generically racist and violent material.
Since then, Mayor Lyda Krewson has said that the worst offenders have been re-assigned to desk duty, away from the public; and St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner has announced that her office is looking at the posts and will take “appropriate measures” if necessary. In addition, all members of the St. Louis police department will now be required to undergo “sensitivity training.”
But although the virulent Facebook material was very public, details of the investigation and potential consequences are very secret.
Krewson and Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards briefed a group of aldermen, in secret, in a closed, unannounced session inside an aldermanic meeting room. Of the 22 current and 21 former city officers who posted racist material, only “four or five” have been moved to desk duty, according to police union spokesman Jeff Roorda. Their names have been kept secret.
We also have no way of knowing which of the racist Facebook posters may be also on the circuit attorney’s “exclusion list.” That’s a list of police officers whose past behavior of lying and misbehavior has led the circuit attorney’s office to refuse to prosecute any cases involving those officers. That list, under order from a judge and in conjunction with Gardner’s office, is secret. In Phoenix, a similar list is public record, and media analysis has shown that many Phoenix police officers caught making white nationalist posts were also on a non-prosecute list because of past bad behavior.
Amid all this secrecy, what do we know about individual officers who felt free to spread bigoted, racist and violent material after having taken an oath to serve and protect all the citizens of a city that’s 54 percent minority? Actually, we know quite a bit.
- Officer Thomas Mabrey, who’s been a St. Louis police officer since 1987 and whose Facebook page claims he’s a “supervisor in charge of patrol officers on the night watch,” put up posts equating the Black Lives Matter movement with the Ku Klux Klan, wrote, “F the Muslim turd goat humpers” and posted, “Ah, another Black History Month, or should I say Annual Bash America Month.”
- Sgt. Ron Hasty, posting under the name “Ron Nighthawk,” works closely with top City Hall officials as the man in charge of the city’s anti-illegal trash dumping task force. He has posted Confederate flag images as well as posts celebrating police use of force, including chemical agents, against protesters.
- Officer Roger Murphey also put up Facebook posts attacking demonstrators after ex-Officer Jason Stockley was acquitted of killing Anthony Lamar Smith, saying, “So they’re protesting for a violent thug breaking the law and Lying (Mayor) Lyda (Krewson) and kimmy g (Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner) are backing them.”
- Officer Shane Coats, currently assigned to police District 4, caused controversy by wearing an “I am Darren Wilson” bracelet while on duty in 2014. He Facebook-posted a story about Ferguson protesters allying with Palestinian activists, writing, “God, where’s a suicide bomber when you need one?” Coats also posted a story about a white woman allegedly shot and killed by an African-American with the caption, “Somehow this is gonna be whitey’s fault.”
- Officer Michael Calcaterra, who works in the police Traffic Division, posted under the name “Michael Joseph,” once putting up a photo of an officer punching a suspect with the caption, “I’m going to serve and protect the s**t out of you.”
- Officer Scott Weidler, currently serving in District 4, posted a series of Facebook images demeaning Mexicans.
- Officer Michael Niethe, posting under the name “Mike James,” put up images and statements closely linked to white nationalist and armed anti-government “militia” organizations, including one that read: “The day is fast approaching when fence-sitting will no longer be possible. You will either stand with the resistance or take a knee and willingly accept the yoke of tyranny and oppression.” Next to it is the Roman numeral “III,” linked to an armed white nationalist group called the “Three Per-Centers.” In 2015, ten days after white supremacist Dylan Roof killed nine African-American worshipers at a historic black church in Charleston, S.C., Neithe posted an image of the Confederate flag.
- Officer Steven Landers repeatedly posted images of the stylized skull that’s the logo of “The Punisher” comic book series. The skull, widely used by police and the military, has been linked by researchers from the Anti-Defamation League to alt-right white nationalist groups. The skull logo was worn by many white supremacists at the 2017 “United the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., that left an anti-racism protester dead, run down by a white nationalist’s car.
- Officer Brian Demettis also used the Punisher skull in posts.
With all that known, though, the city still refuses to be transparent with names or consequences.
All we know is that the offending officers, like many of the bad guys they chase, aren’t too bright.