Suit Claims East St. Louis Passed Up White Police Chief Over Race

Nicholas J.C. Pistor, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 28, 2009

City officials seeking a new police chief passed up the former director of the Florida Highway Patrol, who formerly was a top commander of the Illinois State Police, because he is white, two former members of a city board claim.

Wyatt Frazer and Della Murphy allege in a federal lawsuit that they were forced off the Police, Fire and Civil Service Board for their advocacy of a white candidate when the chief’s job was open in 2007.

Their lawyer said Tuesday the spurned candidate was Ronald Grimming, a Metro East resident who rose to be deputy superintendent of the State Police before taking the top spot in Florida in 1993. Grimming could not be reached for comment.

The suit against Mayor Alvin Parks, City Manager Robert Betts and the city itself does not identify Grimming by name or qualifications.

But the plaintiffs’ lawyer, Thomas E. Kennedy III, said it was Grimming, and that Parks told his clients “the city wasn’t ready to hire a white police chief.”

East St. Louis has a 97.7 percent black population, according to U.S. census records.

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The candidate chosen at the time was Michael Baxton Sr., an African-American who had been a police detective in adjoining Centreville and police chief in Brooklyn, a village of fewer than 700 residents.

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The lawsuit also alleges that Parks and Betts repeatedly questioned Frazer and Murphy after they hired two white applicants for probationary police officer positions. Frazer and Murphy were fired in October 2007, the lawsuit states.

“[The] defendants thereafter fired all of the candidates hired by [Frazer and Murphy] and hired several new officers and employees based on their racial and political beliefs,” the suit alleges.

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