July 25, 2008

Police Board Calls Special Meeting

By Jeremy Kohler, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Jul. 25--The St. Louis Police Board, facing a controversy over officers' use of previously impounded cars and questions about the future of Chief Joe Mokwa, will hold a special meeting at 10 a.m. today. One member of the board, Mayor Francis Slay, has called on Mokwa to retire.

A notice about the meeting did not specifically say that Mokwa would be discussed. But on Monday, Board President Chris Goodson told reporters that the chief's credibility was in question, and that the board would meet "in the very near future" to discuss possible discipline.

Today's meeting at police headquarters will be closed to the public, according to a notice e-mailed to the media.

On his website, Slay said in a blog Thursday that he's suggesting the chief "simply retire now." Slay wrote that he suggested that earlier this week while talking to a lawyer for Mokwa.

"I suggested this, not because I know or believe that Joe Mokwa has done anything wrong, but because I have come to believe that for the department to focus effectively on its mission of reducing crime, we have to make a change," according to Slay's post.

The controversy has created fissures at the department's highest levels. In an unusual step, the department's general counsel, Jane Berman Shaw, who reports to Mokwa's staff,recused herself from representing the board, which hired its own lawyer, former U.S. Attorney Edward L. Dowd Jr. And a paid public relations firm -- not the department's staff spokespeople -- now speaks for the board.

Last Friday, the board and its lawyer released a report that said Mokwa's daughter and an untold number of police officers got free use of cars from a company with a contract to tow and impound cars.

Also, the Post-Dispatch has reported that the daughter, Aimie Mokwa, bought three cars from an arm of the towing company at prices substantially lower than wholesale value.

The Police Board's report, penned by two lawyers from the St. Louis law firm Armstrong Teasdale, said Mokwa first learned about his daughter's use of the cars this spring. The report cleared the chief of any wrongdoing.

But on Saturday, Board President Chris Goodson told the Post-Dispatch that Mokwa had known about the arrangement before this spring. Goodson later told reporters that the board would consider possible discipline.

One of the Armstrong Teasdale lawyers went further Monday night. Jeffrey Demerath said Mokwa "was not truthful" and that the investigation would have been "completely different if we were told the truth."

The chief has insisted that he has been "forthcoming and explicit" with the board.

The St. Louis Police Department is financed by city tax dollars, yet run by a five-member board. Four of the spots are appointed by the governor, while the fifth is held by the mayor.


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