East St. Louis Police Chief Michael Baxton called me into his office this afternoon and told me the news that virtually everyone thought was long overdue.
As he closed the door Chief Baxton looked at me and said "Mr. Cheatham I'm resigning and it's all your fault."
I looked at him and replied "it's not my fault Chief."
Baxton has been under fire since we broadcast the first in a series of reports about his criminal arrest record, and the arrest records of many of his officers. News 4 Investigates learned that at least 19 current officers, including the Chief, has been charged with a felony or criminal misdemeanor. That's one out of every four officers. Four of them were convincted of assault or battery.
Baxton was also widely criticized for ending a longstanding relationship with the Illinois State Police. In a letter written fifteen months ago, Baxton told the ISP he no longer needed its help on murder investigations. He also requested the evidence in approximately 50 homicide cases that were being held by the ISP. But Baxton never picked up the evidence.
A few days after News 4 Investigates revealed the letter, Baxton asked the State Police to renew its role as a joint investigator on murder cases in East St. Louis.
In his resignation letter, Baxton writes that he accepted the invitation to become Chief "in the hope that I could come in and make a real difference in the quality of life of the citizens of East St. Louis."
Baxton called the challenges of his job "overwhelming obstacles." He added that he was "proud of the progress the department made and I stand by my distinguished record as Chief of Police."
Baxton also lashed out at the media. "I found it increasingly difficult to effectively manage the Police Department while certain factions of the local media attacked my credibility and that of my officers." Baxton pointed out that "the overwhelming majority of the officers with arrest records were hired prior to my appointment."
"Having said all this," Baxton added, "I would like to thank my supporters, the citizens of East St. Louis and Mayor Alvin Parks Jr., for the trust and wisdom they have given me. Furthermore, I wish my successors the best of luck in their endeavors and pray they receive the support and guidance they need to effectively lead the city's police department and provide the level of quality police protection that its citizenry deserves."
As News 4 first reported last week, Lt. Colonel Lenzie Stewart will serve as Acting Chief while candidates for the Chief's job are interviewed.