On February 4, veteran Brentwood police officer Dan Retzlaff faced a disciplinary hearing conducted by the department where he'd served nineteen years. By then, he'd already spent two months on administrative leave after a woman accused him of rape.
But the hearing didn't concern what a Brentwood spokeswoman would later describe in a statement as "off-duty sexual misconduct." Rather, the official interview was intended to allow Retzlaff to explain why he'd spent virtually an entire twelve-hour shift, spanning October 20 and 21, 2018, sending more than 90 video messages
to a woman he'd recently met on a dating app.
Those videos made the local news last week, as KSDK reported
that several clips featured Retzlaff touring the Brentwood Promenade and a nearby parking structure and describing "ideas for the places where I would like to have sex."
That story seemed to have a tidy ending: Rather than attempt to answer for his on-duty flirtations, Retzlaff stormed out of his February 4 disciplinary hearing and resigned.
But that wasn't the entire story. After Riverfront Times
published a story based on the videos and disciplinary report released by KSDK, we were contacted by the woman at the center of the controversy — the recipient of the videos, and the person who'd set the stage for the disciplinary hearing that effectively ended Retzlaff's career as an officer.
Behind the videos, she explained, was a much more serious allegation.
As the St. Louis County Police Department would later document in its investigation, less than one week after Retzlaff sent the woman the videos — including one in which he described "a nice little dark parking lot, it's a good place to hop on the lap of the driver" — the two met for drinks at a local bar. It was their second date.
The woman, who spoke to RFT
on condition of anonymity, alleges she later woke up without her pants on in the front seat of Retzlaff's SUV. She says she had no memory of how she'd gotten that way.
"Dan confessed to touching me, and confessed to knowing that I was too intoxicated," she says. "It's been six and a half months, and I'm no closer to getting accountability."
Calls and messages left at the number listed beneath Retzlaff's name on the county police report were not returned earlier this week, and neither were messages left at the attorney representing him in a pending divorce.
SCREENSHOT VIA KSDK
Brentwood police Corporal Dan Retzlaff.
Retzlaff has never been charged with a crime connected to the incident. On January 8, the St. Louis County Police Department applied for a warrant to charge Retzlaff with first-degree sodomy, a felony. According to the report, a detective met with an assistant St. Louis County prosecutor that same day. "After a review of the facts and circumstances of the case," the report concludes, "charges were refused based on lack of evidence."
In an emailed statement, Brentwood city spokeswoman Janet Levy says that the county police investigation was followed by Brentwood's own "non-criminal investigation to determine whether our officer violated any city or department policies and procedures."
At that point, the statement continues, Retzlaff was "removed from duty pending completion of our internal disciplinary investigation."
Brentwood's statement appears to contradict KSDK's story, which described Retzlaff being on administrative leave at the time for "an unrelated matter." In reality, it was Retzlaff's accuser who supplied the videos to Brentwood, as she believed they showed Retzlaff describing the very circumstances — public sex, and sex in a car — in which she had found herself on the morning of October 27, 2018. But she says the St. Louis county detective investigating her complaint refused even to watch the videos.
Brentwood, meanwhile, made Retzlaff's on-duty video sexts the focus of its disciplinary investigation. It left the off-duty sexual assault allegation to the county police.
In official interviews with a St. Louis County police detective, both the accuser and Retzlaff described meeting up for a date on October 26. The woman told detectives that she had drank several airplane-sized bottles of liquor prior to the date because she was nervous about the first kiss.
The accuser now contends that the detectives highlighted her alcohol consumption and used other details of her work and sexual history against her to discredit her account.
"My past was laid out there like it was a horrible thing I should be ashamed of," she says. "It didn't include anything about [Retzlaff] talking about this fetish about sex in public."
And the two versions of that night diverge in significant ways. In the detective's report, the accuser describes going to the bathroom and returning to find a drink waiting for her, though she didn't recall ordering it. After drinking it, she said the two left the bar. The next thing she can remember is waking up naked from the waist down in Retzlaff's passenger seat.
When Retzlaff was presented with her account, the St. Louis County detective noted, "Daniel seemed surprised and stated there was no way it happened like that."
Retzlaff denied putting anything in her drink. In his interview with the detective, he described the two leaving the bar around 12:30 a.m. to go to his car, where they made out and "touched each other a lot," with both of them rubbing each other's genital areas through their clothing.
The report continues, "They made out until [she] sat up, opened the door and 'puked' out the door.' ... After [she] threw up they both fell asleep."
Retzlaff described both of them waking up, fully clothed, around 4:30 a.m. Then, he says, he drove the woman back to her house.
The report also includes a description of text messages they exchanged in the following weeks, as well as a "summary" of detective's impression of the texts: "Some of the messages were flirtatious and extremely explicit. Both [the accuser] and Daniel appeared to be willing participants."
But the texts also showed the accuser's stance toward the night in question changing. She started asking Retzlaff about bruises on her thigh and why her "clit was sore."
Asked to address the injuries, Retzlaff suggested to the detective that his date had sustained the injuries from "spinning and moving around inside his car because she kept hitting things and leaning over the center console and armrest."
"He attributed her clit being sore," the report notes, "due to him rubbing her genital area over her pants."
The accuser does not accept Retzlaff's explanation. She says it took time to get through her own sense of denial "that a police officer would sexually assault me," but her concern about her injuries, coupled with his lack of response to her questions, eventually led her to believe that something terrible had happened to her in the front seat of the car.
The St. Louis County investigative report includes the last text message she sent Retzlaff before making her criminal complaint against him:
"No more putting it off and ignoring me," she'd written. "We are meeting and you are going to tell me what happened when we left the bar."
Beyond interviews with the county detective and associated text messages, the investigative report mentions no additional evidence that could corroborate or refute the accuser's key allegations. Bar staff apparently told the detective that they did not have a surveillance system.
St. Louis County's refusal to prosecute shocked the accuser. She felt strongly that Retzlaff's admission that he'd engaged in sexual conduct with a woman he knew was drunk would be sufficient to bring charges. She also wondered if there wasn't a conflict of interest inherent in having the same prosecutors investigate an officer who likely testified in criminal cases handled by St. Louis County.
So she reached out to St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell, whose office took action — he designated the office of St. Charles County Prosecutor Tim Lohmar to review the case as a special prosecutor.
In an interview, a spokeswoman for Lohmar's office, Leslie Knight, confirmed that the office had taken the case — and come to the same conclusion as St. Louis County.
"Our prosecuting attorney did review it," Knight says. "He did not issue charges based on lack of evidence."
Follow Danny Wicentowski on Twitter at @D_Towski. E-mail the author at Danny.Wicentowski@RiverfrontTimes.com
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