Bellefontaine Neighbors police officer uses racial slur -

Bellefontaine Neighbors police officer uses racial slur

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The Bellefontaine Neighbors Police Department is all-white, policing a city that's 70 percent black. That does not explain all of the conflicts the police have had with residents in the community, but critics of police practices say race is sometimes at the root of the problem.

News 4 Investigates obtained video from 4 years ago of what appeared to be a routine traffic stop: white Bellefontaine Neighbors cops pulled over a black woman driving a rental car.

An officer admitted the stop was a mistake, so the police didn't write a report, often referred to as NRN, or no report needed, but in this case one of the cops used a racial slur to describe the woman leaving town and heading north.

The audio recorded him say "n---- running north," his version of NRN. Seconds later there is laughter.

News 4 Investigates emailed questions about the recording and the identity of the cops to the interim police chief and mayor, but they did not respond.

Rev. Phillip Duvall has filed two complaints to the U.S. Department of Justice about policing practices in Bellefontaine Neighbors.

"Those videos speak to not just a pattern, but a culture that exists in the Bellefontaine Police Department. That has existed for a very long time" said Duvall.

In the first case, a decade ago, suspects spray-painted the n-word on a Bellefontaine home owned by a St. Louis firefighter and his wife. A cross was also burned on their property. The firefighter says police didn't treat the case seriously.

Following that, the firefighter was arrested, but police would not say why.

In a complaint the firefighter filed with the police department, he said officers told him he was wanted by the FBI, even though he wasn't.

The firefighter said one of the cops claimed they were pranking him, and that the firefighter's arrest was just a joke.

One of the officer's identified in the victim's complaint was Jeremy Ihler, the current interim police chief of Bellefontaine Neighbors, the heir apparent to the top job and a 20-year veteran of the department.

A Bellefontaine Neighbors Lieutenant told the firefighter that "appropriate disciplinary action has been taken against the officer involved." 

The city refused to confirm if that officer was Jeremy Ihler.

Duvall told News 4 the Bellefontaine Neighbors "department lacks all credibility with the public."

With Rev. Duvall's help, the firefighter filed a complaint with the DOJ. They didn't prosecute, but two months after the false arrest, Police Chief Robert Pruett wrote a memo admitting that, "often officers are not taking resident complaints as serious matters." He added that residents claim that "officers are trying to persuade or talk residents... out of making a police report" and that things needed to change.

A year before Chief Pruett wrote that, while the DOJ was still looking at the firefighter's case, Bellefontaine Neighbors, an all-white department at the time, hired Joe St. Clair as a cop.

During the last two fiscal years, traffic cases in Bellefontaine Neighbors increased 130%, by far the biggest increase in St. Louis County.

Once again, the police department is all-white. The city is 70% black.

Rev. Duvall filed another complaint with the DOJ, prompting a series of private meetings with the city and DOJ officials about policing practices in Bellefontaine Neighbors.

Several months ago, then-police Chief Pruett defended the department's approach, insisting it was good policing.

"I would never do anything to damage this community. Never. This is all about policemen doing their jobs," Pruett said in February.

Two weeks ago, after repeated meetings with Bellefontaine Neighbors city officials and the DOJ, the session ended abruptly, when a frustrated Duvall walked out.

He told News 4 that Bellefontaine Neighbors police are "not willing to stop the predatory practice of stopping people and arresting people. That's unacceptable."
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