The indictments of three former St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department officers in December 2008 raised a host of legal questions and further litigation.
The officers’ indictments caused both the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Missouri and the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office to review hundreds of cases involving the officers. Comments made by prosecutors relating to the review of the cases drew criticism from defense attorney Chet Pleban, of Pleban & Associates, and resulted in him filing a motion for prosecutorial misconduct.
Officers Bobby Lee Garrett and Vincent Carr were indicted in December 2008, accused of planting evidence, stealing money and dealing drugs. Officer Leo Liston was also indicted in April 2009 for similar charges.
Garrett, Liston and Carr were police detectives employed by the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department and worked in the Crime Suppression Unit. Officers assigned to the Crime Suppression Unit typically handled investigations involving auto theft, burglary, illegal narcotics sales and firearms offenses and usually carried out their duties while working in plain clothes and unmarked cars.
All eventually pleaded guilty. Liston was sentenced to three months in prison and ordered to pay $8,000 on a felony charge of misappropriation of government funds in September. Carr was sentenced to 12 months in prison and ordered to pay $28,000 in restitution on conspiracy, wire fraud, making false statements and obstruction of justice charges. Garrett was sentenced to 28 months in prison on charges of conspiracy, wire fraud, making false statements and theft of government funds and ordered to pay $17,000 in restitution.
Pleban filed a motion in Garrett’s case accusing former U.S. Attorney Catherine Hanaway and St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce of prosecutorial misconduct after they talked with the media about the police corruption cases casting doubt on more than 1,000 convictions. In Pleban’s motion, he argued that the statements made by Hanaway and Joyce created an impression that his client was guilty of additional uncharged crimes.
U.S. District Judge E. Richard Webber denied his claims. Webber said Hanaway’s comments cannot be considered misconduct because they are permitted by the Missouri Rules of Professional Conduct and the U.S. Attorneys Manual.
“It is clear that [Hanaway’s] comments regarding the manner in which her office is handling cases in which Defendant was involved do not amount to prosecutorial misconduct,” Webber wrote. “Informing the general public how the United States Attorneys’ Office intends to proceed in order to ensure that innocent persons are not in jail as a result of police wrongdoing is certainly in the interest of furthering law enforcement goals.”
Both Joyce’s office and the U.S. Attorney’s Office have been reviewing cases in which the officers were involved.
Joyce said in September that the office had dropped 22 Liston cases that were pending, 40 Garrett cases and 40 Carr cases. She noted that some of the cases are duplicates because the officers were partners. While the circuit attorney’s office has completed its investigations into the pending cases involving the officers, it still has to complete a thorough review of cases resulting in convictions. Rachel Smith, chief prosecutor of the community affairs bureau, said this month the office has looked at more than 800 cases involving the officers.
“We’re looking for cases that have evidence or something to suggest that a person is innocent,” she said. “We’re trying to find cases where the officers played an integral part. The challenge is not everything that has [one of these officers’] names on it means that the officer was acting improperly.”
Smith said the office welcomes any leads from defense attorneys and inmate’s family members that may suggest that someone is wrongfully imprisoned. She declined to comment on whether the office has found anyone that it suspects might be innocent and is in jail right now.
James E. Crowe Jr., assistant U.S. attorney, said the office had finished reviewing its pending cases involving the officers and some of the cases were dropped. He said the review of cases resulting in convictions is still ongoing. The office has found one case in which specific information has cast doubt on a conviction. Crowe declined to identify the case, noting nothing has yet been filed in open court.
In late November, after Garrett was sentenced, he filed a lawsuit against the St. Louis Board of Police Commissioners for failing to represent him in a civil lawsuit. That lawsuit, filed by James Whitehead in federal court, accuses Garrett of taking $4,000 from his pocket and later $40,000 from his home during an illegal search on May 25, 2006. Garrett sent a letter to the Board of Police Commissioners asking it to represent him in this case but it refused because, it said, “the allegations against Garrett giving rise to Plaintiff’s claim do not fall within the scope of a police officer’s duties.”
Pleban argues that the refusal was not appropriate given that every civil lawsuit makes claims of misfeasance or malfeasance against an officer. Garrett’s civil lawsuit is pending in St. Louis Circuit Court before Judge Robert Dierker Jr. That case is Bobby Lee Garrett v. St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, et al., 0922-CC10011. The federal lawsuit against Garrett is James Whitehead v. City of St. Louis et al., 4:09-cv-00483.