St. Louis police have paid out big bucks over the years to avoid charges of officer misconduct.
Since 2010, the St. Louis Police Department has forked over $4.7 million in settlement money for cases alleging injuries, wrongful imprisonment and death, according to investigations by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
The Post-Dispatch obtained payment records from the Missouri Attorney General’s Office, which represented the department in civil disputes until 2013, in a request for public information.
Officials reportedly settled 44 lawsuits over the last six years, three of which had not been reviewed by city prosecutors beforehand. The city paid $900,000 to the family of Anthony Lamar Smith in 2013, two years after the man was fatally shot by a police officer following a high-speed chase. Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce did not file murder charges against former St. Louis officer Jason Stockley until May of this year.
Cases involving two additional six-figure settlements may never see Joyce’s offices, as the news outlet reports municipal attorneys have no plans to review them.
A $212,500 payment went to the family of 23-year-old Normane Bennett in March 2012. Bennett was shot and killed by police in an alley on the evening of June 25, 2010, after fleeing the scene of an alleged drug bust.
And in September 2013, police awarded $400,000 to the family members of Cary Ball, who was shot by police 21 times in spring of that year after crashing his car following a vehicular pursuit.
A spokesperson for the circuit attorney’s office said that while Joyce was concerned that the SLPD had settled two cases totaling more than $600,000 sans review, the city lacked the human and capital resources to pursue charges.
“At this time, the [circuit attorney’s office] does not have the manpower to review those cases. However, if the city would provide the funding for the effort … Joyce would be willing to consider the undertaking,” attorney Susan C. Ryan said.
The SLPD cleared officers involved in the deaths of Bennett and Ball.
Law firm Loevy & Loevy helped win $2.5 million for a man freed from prison after serving five years in a case involving two former St. Louis officers. Michael Holmes claimed officers Shell Sharp and Bobby Lee Garrett lied about finding drugs in his possession during a raid in 2003.
An attorney with the Chicago firm said a prosecutorial review is warranted anytime police departments settle cases for such high amounts.
“In my considerable experience, police departments do not settle and certainly don’t settle for a lot of money unless there is clear evidence of liability, clear evidence the shooting was unjustified,” Jon Loevy told the Post-Dispatch. “Anything short of that and they decline to settle.”
“I can tell you from experience, they don’t just cough up money routinely. They fight hard, they are reluctant to resolve cases and there is just not that kind of money lying around unless there is merit.”