Assistant chief alleges he was passed over for being white

FILE - In this Dec. 23, 2017, file photo, interim St. Louis Police Chief Lawrence O'Toole, center, speaks to reporters in St. Louis. O'Toole, St. Louis' assistant police chief, has filed suit alleging that he was passed over for promotion to the position of chief in 2018 because he is white.

ST. LOUIS — St. Louis' assistant police chief is suing the city and the police department, alleging that he was passed over for the city's top police job because he is white.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported on the lawsuit Tuesday. The suit by Assistant Police Chief Lawrence O'Toole was filed May 1.

John Hayden, who is black, was chosen as police chief in 2018, months after a white former police officer, Jason Stockley, was found not guilty in the 2011 shooting death of a black man following a car chase. The verdict in September 2017 led to several protests.

O'Toole said in the lawsuit that St. Louis Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards told him, “If Stockley didn't happen you would be the police chief.”

The lawsuit said Edwards’ statement is proof that O’Toole did not get the job because of his race, a violation of the Missouri Human Rights Act. It alleged ongoing retaliation that has caused lost wages, non-diagnosed emotional pain and other forms of suffering. O’Toole is seeking damages of more than $25,000.

An email message on Tuesday seeking comment on behalf of Edwards and Mayor Lyda Krewson was not immediately returned.

O'Toole became acting police chief in April 2107 following the resignation of Sam Dotson. Five months later, a judge found Stockley not guilty in the death of Anthony Lamar Smith.

Prosecutors argued that Stockley planted a gun on Smith, noting that it was Stockley’s DNA found on the gun and not Smith’s. But the judge ruled that prosecutors failed to prove Stockley did not act in self-defense.

Several protests followed, including some in which windows were broken and other property damaged. Meanwhile, some officers were accused of heavy-handed tactics, including arresting journalists and bystanders.

During one protest, an undercover black officer was beaten by colleagues who were unaware he was a police officer. Several officers accused in the attack were indicted by a federal grand jury. Some have pleaded guilty, and others are awaiting trial.

The application process for a permanent chief opened and closed in October 2017. O'Toole's lawsuit alleges the selection committee members were hostile and biased against him because of his race.

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