The city of St. Louis has agreed to pay an assistant police chief nearly $162,000 after filing a discrimination lawsuit against the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, alleging that he was passed over for a high-ranking position because of his race, according to a settlement filed Monday.
As part of the settlement, Lt. Col. Lawrence O’Toole will retire from the department at the end of the week, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
According to the federal lawsuit, O’Toole filed the legal complaint in 2020 after being passed over for the police chief position in 2017. Instead, Chief John Hayden, a Black man, was chosen for the job in 2018, months after former police officer Jason Stockley was found not guilty of murder in the shooting death of 24-year-old Anthony Lamar Smith following a car chase in December 2011. The acquittal led to multiple protests across St. Louis and the country.
O’Toole claimed that former Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards told him, “If Jason Stockley didn’t happen, you would be the police chief.” O’Toole said Edward’s statement was proof that he did not get the job because of his race, violating the Missouri Human Rights Act, the suit read.
In 2018, O’Toole filed multiple complaints with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Missouri Commission on Human Rights, citing racism during the selection process.
The decision comes days before St. Louis Mayor Tishaura O. Jones’ administration announced that Chief Hayden would retire on June 18, selecting Lt. Col. Michael Sack as interim police chief while the administration continues to search for the department’s next leader.
O’Toole will receive $25,000 for his legal fees, more than $76,000 in back pay for retroactive raises he would have expected as police chief, and $60,000 for emotional pain and suffering. His pension will also reflect the salary he would have earned as chief.
The settlement also stated that O’Toole is prohibited from seeking employment with the city again.
O’Toole’s recent legal dispute raises questions regarding the city’s history of racism, with 72 percent of Black people being killed by local law enforcement, including the SLMPD. Last year, Mayor Jones and several Public Safety officials proposed a plan to combat excessive force used by police officers against Black people in the community, St. Louis Public Radio reported.
“The leaders of our city are at the front of a national movement to reimagine public safety and end racism in policing,” Jones said during a town hall meeting in September 2021. “A safer St. Louis does not just come from the top. We have to work together, learn from each other and invest in a public safety model that supports our principles.”
The Center for Policing Equity, a national organization that examines police behavior in local police departments, found that between 2012 and 2019, St. Louis Metropolitan police officers were four times more likely to use excessive force against Black people per year than white people. According to a report from Arch City Defenders, “51 percent (67) of all 132 people killed by police were Black men between the age of 15-34, and 44 (66 percent) were killed by SLMPD.
Since then, there have been several high-profile shootings involving Black men, including 18-year-old Michael Brown, who Fergusen police officer Darren Wilson killed in August 2014. Brown’s death sparked several weeks of protests and demonstrations, leading to a national debate involving the relationship between law enforcement officers and Black Americans and Missouri’s use-of-force law, which was revised in 2016.