Prosecutor adds 22 St. Louis officers to exclusion list

ST. LOUIS (AP) — St. Louis’ top prosecutor has added 22 more names to a list of city police officers who are not allowed to bring cases to her office, after a national group accused the officers of posting racist and anti-Muslim comments on social media.

The 22 new names brings to 59 the total number of officers on Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner’s “exclusion list” that she first announced in August. Gardner has said the original list included officers with credibility concerns, but declined to elaborate.

Gardner said seven of the newly-added officers are permanently banned from presenting cases for warrants. The other 15 will be reviewed to consider conditions of reinstatement.

The Philadelphia-based Plain View Project studied thousands of Facebook posts from St. Louis and seven other jurisdictions as part of a project that began in 2017. Details were released this month. Forty-three of the 3,500 accounts viewed by the group were tied to St. Louis, with 22 of those involving current officers and 21 former officers.

Some of the posts support roughing up protesters or mock foreign accents. Others display the Confederate flag and question whether Black History Month is racist.

“When a police officer’s integrity is compromised in this manner, it compromises the entire criminal justice system and our overall ability to pursue justice,” Gardner said in a news release late Tuesday. “After careful examination of the underlying bias contained in those social media posts, we have concluded that this bias would likely influence an officer’s ability to perform his or her duties in an unbiased manner.”

Gardner’s move comes amid longstanding tension with police. Gardner, who is black, was elected in November 2016 after campaigning to rebuild trust in the criminal justice system at a time when the St. Louis area was still healing from the events in nearby Ferguson, where a white police officer shot and killed an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, two years earlier.

She has been at odds with the city’s law enforcement establishment virtually since taking office.

Gardner’s original exclusion list announced in August contained more than two dozen officers. Gardner’s spokeswoman said additional officers were added to the list later and the new names bring the total to 59 — roughly 5% of the city’s approximate 1,100 commissioned officers.

In addition to the ban on presenting cases, search warrants will not be approved for investigations involving officers on the list, Gardner said.

In response to the report on the Facebook postings, St. Louis police pulled several officers off the streets, launched an internal investigation and ordered sensitivity training for officers. The city said it would require additional training on discrimination, harassment and social media rules for all 7,200 of its civil service employees.

Police Sgt. Keith Barrett said the internal investigation is ongoing but declined comment on Gardner’s action adding officers to the exclusion list.

In a letter to Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards and Police Chief John Hayden, Gardner said the social media statements were “shocking and beneath the dignity of someone who holds such a powerful position, especially those comments that advocate violence.”

Jim Salter is the AP correspondent in St. Louis.