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Sheriff hopefuls clash after candidate forum

DUTCHTOWN – There was some kind of confrontation between Democratic candidates for city sheriff at a recent public meeting, but differences remain about how serious it was.

A video of the incident has been going around social media, but questions remain about whether it tells the whole story.

The kerfuffle happened Tuesday in the parking lot of the Regions Bank at Chippewa Street and South Broadway, after a candidates’ forum sponsored by the 20th Ward Open Democrats Organization.

Sheriff candidate Alfred Montgomery claims that Sheriff Vernon Betts threatened to slap him in the face. But Betts, who is running for re-election in the Aug. 4 Democratic primary, contends that Montgomery was the disruptive one.

In the video, Montgomery holds a camera and approaches Betts.

“Did you call me a punk?” Montgomery is heard saying. 

Betts, who had been talking to people in a circle, turns around and says, “I wasn’t talking to you. Was I talking to you?”

Montgomery apologizes and says, “This is the barrier that we’re trying to break, that law enforcement mentality. You think you’re so upset that you can hit and you can beat on people just because you wear a badge. This millennial ain’t gonna be too easy to beat.” 

Montgomery said Betts walked up to him and called him “little boy.”

In an interview, Montgomery said that he had been taping Betts’ speech and that his recorder shut off just before Betts called him a punk. When the program ended soon after that, Montgomery turned the recorder back on and approached Betts.

“It’s very unfortunate that we have a sheriff that acts this way,” said Montgomery, who added that he wanted to get a restraining order against Betts. “This is not the first time I have been threatened.”

Betts had a different story.

“While participating in a candidate forum last night, I respectfully let my opponent give his speech,” Betts said in a statement on Wednesday. “During my allotted time he began to interrupt and speak over me, eventually rushing up to me and sticking his camera in my face, and I responded defensively.”

“Mr. Montgomery is a disgruntled, failed trainee, who continually repeats falsehoods and inaccurate information about the Sheriff’s Office and myself,” Betts said in his statement.

“He only lasted as probationary deputy for just over three months, continually violated department policy and was subsequently terminated when he was discovered campaigning while on duty,” Betts said. “Mr. Montgomery doesn’t understand it is illegal to campaign on taxpayer time and taxpayer dime.” 

Gregg Christian, a spokesman for Betts’ office, wouldn’t comment on the campaign but also said that Montgomery had been a probationary deputy for three months but had been fired for campaigning at work.

But Montgomery said he was fired on Dec. 16, the day after Betts learned Montgomery planned to run for sheriff. Montgomery insisted he had not campaigned on the job.

Twentieth Ward Committeewoman Wendy Campbell said the incident occurred toward the end of the forum, after Montgomery had spoken and while Betts was giving his speech. 

“From what I was seeing, he was provoking and having it done on Facebook Live,” Campbell said.

“When he intervened the first time, that was disrespectful,” Campbell said. “It was premeditated. He knew what he was doing.” 

Candidates for sheriff besides Betts and Montgomery are John N. Castellano, Lester E. Stewart and David A. Mosley.

Jim Merkel

southsidemerkel@gmail.com Born and raised in the St. Louis area, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of five books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. The latest is Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis with Miss Jenny the Cat. For more about Jim, visit www.jimmerkelthewriter.com.

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