CLAYTON, MO – Organizations of current and past St. Louis County police officers closed ranks Monday behind Chief Tim Fitch, whose call for an FBI investigation of a construction contract may be putting his job in? jeopardy.
In a formal statement, the St. Louis County Police Association accused County Executive Charlie A. Dooley of laying plans to unfairly fire Fitch, the chief for four years.
“We stand behind our chief 100 percent on this matter,” wrote Gabe Crocker, president of the union. “The public should be outraged at what I consider to be one of the most clear-cut examples of inappropriate conduct by elected officials that I have ever seen.”
The organization asked the county council to adopt a resolution in support of Fitch.
In an email to its members Monday, St. Louis County Police Retirees Association president Denny Robertson wrote that Dooley is attempting to oust Fitch just as he did ?Fitch’s predecessor, Jerry Lee.
“Because of Dooley’s apparent intent to control our department, we need to take a stand and not only support our chiefs, but find a way to get rid of the source of the problems,” Robertson wrote.
Dooley has refused to comment on the controversy.
Robertson characterized Fitch as an “honest” chief who supports his personnel and tries “to run a clean, highly professional police department, one that is not controlled by political interference.”
As early as January, Fitch raised the issue of whether it was a conflict of interest for Gregory Sansone, chairman of the St. Louis County Police Board, to be an owner of a company doing $3.7 million in work on the department’s new crime lab. Last week, Fitch asked the FBI to investigate.
Backers of the chief say they fear that Dooley is trying to pack the police board — which has hiring and firing authority over the post — with new, anti-Fitch members.
The Post-Dispatch reported Monday that a member of the police board, John Saracino, said he was asked Friday for his resignation by John Temporiti, former chief of staff and campaign manager for Dooley. Temporiti also is former chairman of the Missouri Democratic Party.
“He said he had some concerns about the chief, let’s just put it like that,” Saracino told a reporter Sunday. Saracino also said he did not intend to quit until a replacement was chosen.
Temporiti denied pressuring Saracino on Dooley’s behalf.
“I’m not involved in any of that,” Temporiti said Sunday.
Temporiti said he had called Saracino to talk about pending legal action over allegations of racial profiling by county police officers in south St. Louis County.
Earlier this year, Fitch fired Lt. Rick Hayes for allegedly instructing officers to target blacks in and around retail centers there. Hayes has requested a police board trial to appeal. A trial date has not been set.
Crocker called Temporiti’s questioning of Saracino about the investigation “a dangerous precedent.”
“On one hand Dooley campaign manager John Temporiti says his call to Commissioner Saracino was not to exert undue influence on the Crime Lab/Chief Fitch matter,” Crocker wrote. “But, he readily admits to the Post-Dispatch that he was potentially influencing a separate matter before the police board. … There should be absolutely no political influence over our Board of Police Commissioners.”
Crocker added, “The writing is on the wall. Chief Fitch now has a target on his back.”
All five police board members are serving beyond their three-year terms, pending replacement. In that process, Dooley must nominate new members who have to be confirmed by the county council.
Council member Greg Quinn last week called Fitch’s actions “courageous” and expressed hope that “the FBI gets to the bottom of it.”
Others reached Monday were more circumspect.
Hazel Erby said she had questions about the Sansone subcontract. “I don’t know how he can do that,” she said.
“I think we need to look into it … (but) I’m not sure what the FBI has to do with it,” she said. “I don’t quite understand why the FBI is being called in to investigate, unless there is something else going on that I don’t know about. We need more information about what is going on.”
Another council member, Pat Dolan, similarly expressed concern but urged caution about reaching conclusions without more information. “I don’t know exactly what’s going on,” he said. “I’d love to know.”
Council member Steve Stenger did not comment publicly.
Council members Mike O’Mara, Kathleen Kelly Burkett and Colleen Wasinger did not return phone messages seeking comment Monday.
Police board members reached Monday also remained guarded in their reactions.
Ray Wagner said no one from Dooley’s office had contacted him since news of Sansone’s involvement in the crime lab broke. “I don’t have any plans to resign at the moment,” he said.
Another police board member, Roland Corvington, said Monday that he had not heard from Dooley’s office on the matter and that he planned to remain.
In an interview Wednesday, Sansone told the Post-Dispatch that he had done nothing wrong and had no intent to resign. On Friday, he said he had nothing further to say.
Fitch has said he contacted Dooley and Prosecuting Attorney Robert P. McCulloch in January, after learning that Sansone was part-owner of SM Mechanical, hired to install heating and cooling system in a new crime lab being built inside police headquarters in Clayton. SM Mechanical’s $3.7 million contract is about 40 percent of the project’s total cost.
Dooley and his administration have said there was no conflict, because Sansone was working for the general contractor, ICS Construction, and not directly for the county.
A spokesman for McCulloch said last week that he had determined he has no jurisdiction over enforcing the county charter, and referred the matter to County Counselor Patricia Redington. She has insisted there was no violation.
Fitch said he had gone to the FBI with “new information” he would not specify. He said he had not taken it to McCulloch because, Fitch said, it involved a federal law.