The lawsuit against former Lt. Henrietta Arnold casts ugly light on SLMPD and Police Board
With the city Chief of Police Dan Isom dodging questions
about his rumored retirement, we're left to wonder: If he does step down, would it have anything to do with this civil lawsuit
against former lieutenant Henrietta Arnold
and the Board of Police Commissioners
Because sweet baby Jesus, a lot of sordid facts have come out so far to make the SLMPD and the Board look -- at the very least -- dysfunctional.
But don't take our
word for it. U.S. District Judge Carol Jackson wrote an order
in August order that the young female plaintiff known only as "S.L.":
has submitted evidence from which a reasonable jury could conclude that there is a widespread persistent pattern of unconstitutional conduct, that defendant commissioners are deliberately indifferent to or have tacitly approved such conduct, and that she sustained injury as a result.
"Injury" is a mild word for what happened to her (but more on that in a second).
We wouldn't go as far as Robert Patrick
in the Post-Dispatch
today, whose headline
was "Federal Judge Blasts Police Board." Judge Jackson's task in that
order was only to decide whether the plaintiff's evidence met a certain
threshold, not whether the evidence proved that the police and board screwed up. (That's why she wrote, "a
reasonable jury could conclude
But things don't look great for police in this case, nor for the Board.
All of this stems from a horrible sequence of events that we've already chronicled in detail on this blog, but to summarize:
Lt. Henrietta Arnold had another officer drive her home on July 3, 2010, which was just outside the city limit. When they arrived, they discovered Arnold's teenage son Jonathan with his girlfriend, S.L., in the house. The lieutenant wasn't pleased.
So she and the other officer placed the girl in their patrol car and drove her downtown. On the way, S.L. has testified, Arnold yelled at her, called her a "white bitch" and said if it were up to her, she would've already slit her throat.
Arnold's official excuse for arresting the girlfriend was that she was trespassing on a nearby lot. The arrest report was so sloppy it was rejected by a superior three times
before finally being approved, and even then, according to Judge Jackson, it "contained numerous false statements," including a witness name Arnold that had lifted from an accident report three years earlier.
Internal investigators got wind of this sham, and interrogated Arnold about a month later. She then "made several statements that were later determined to be untrue," according to the judge.
Here's where it got lurid: Arnold's son Jonathan found out his mom was being investigated, so he pressured S.L. to change her story to investigators. At her parents' house on September 7, they argued about it. He gave her a severe beating that, according to her complaint:
result[ed]in four days of hospitalization. The physical injuries to [SL] resulting from this beating included a punctured lung, air around the heart, and multiple bruises, including bruises around the neck due to choking.
Oh yeah, by the way: She was pregnant with his child at the time. They both knew it, too.
Arnold was placed on administrative duty, then suspended. She tried to fight her termination and lost.
S.L. filed her suit in November 2010.
As Judge Jackson sees it, S.L.
does not assert that the St. Louis police department fails to investigate police misconduct but, rather, that the commissioners have failed to take effective action in response to a known problem. She cites 23 instances of false reporting in the five-year period before her arrest in which SLMPD officers were found to have submitted false reports to conceal unlawful conduct, including planting evidence, committing perjury, drug dealing, accepting bribes and falsifying information in search warrants.... the officers involved in these cases do not appear in IAD reports, suggesting that they were never investigated.
And the Board? Jackson writes:
commissioners are not informed about IAD investigations unless and until an officer appeals a decision.... In addition to remaining ignorant of individual cases of alleged wrongdoing, there is evidence that commissioners are not informed even in summary form of the number and subject of IAD investigations.... Plaintiff argues that defendants' failure to reform their practices amounts to deliberate indifference.
If the parties don't settle, that "deliberate indifference" will be a matter for a "reasonable jury" to decide.