Saturday, April 27, 2013

Violent Attack at Meramec College

First of all, let me say that I only know of accounts of the recent violent assault case on the Meramec campus of St. Louis Community College in Kirkwood via the media.  Everybody, including Chancellor Myrtle Dorsey, realizes that the incident should have been handled differently.  As you probably know, an 18 year-old male student was eventually charged with felony assault against a 19 year-old female student.  Campus police released the suspect before having the incident reviewed by prosecutors, according to press reports.  I’ve met Chancellor Dorsey on several occasions and I have no doubt that when this case came to light, she took the right corrective action.

As the father of a daughter who attends Meramec, my only question is how do you prevent this from happening again?  I don’t mean the actual crime – I mean how the next incident will be handled by the school and its campus police force.  And there will be more incidents.  There are a lot of students on that campus and bad things are bound to happen.  My guess is we still wouldn’t know about this particular incident if the victim’s family hadn’t gone to the media.

In any event, we’ve experienced the same issues with some schools in our patrol areas.  Many would rather handle crimes as “school violations” instead of notifying the police and having charges placed on the student.  This goes on more than you realize.  Schools, like most institutions that rely on public support for funding, do not want to look bad or admit they have problems for fear that their next bond issue or tax increase might not pass.  One only needs to look at my local district (Rockwood) for proof.

There was a time a few years ago when we had to threaten a local school superintendent and principal with prosecution under the Missouri Safe Schools Act for failing to report acts of violence in their school to police authorities.  They didn’t take us seriously until we brought a prosecutor to the school to let them know we (and the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office) meant business.  Things have gotten much better in that district since then.  I saw the same resistance from some districts when we started our heroin initiative in 2010 and asked to hold Town Hall meetings in school auditoriums.  One local district chastised me for even suggesting that schools were in denial about their drug problems.
Serious crimes like the one at Meramec happen infrequently.  That’s a good thing.  The bad part of handling crimes infrequently is knowing what to do with them when they happen (see Ebony Jackson murder case).  My suggestion would be to turn over any felony crime that occurs on the Meramec campus to the Kirkwood Police.  They are effective, professional and investigate a lot of felony crimes.  They also are not beholden to image-conscious bosses at the campus.


  1. Chief, I for one AGREE wholeheartedly with your statement. Let the professionals handle the Felony's. What if this person were to do this again? There are dozens of these crimes that aren't treated appropriately that dept's like yours should be handling.

  2. If this happens in our schools and the parents contact the local police, will they get involved or will they tell us this is a matter for the school to handle?

    1. I can only answer for St. Louis County. If we get a call of a crime on a school campus, or witness a crime ourselves and they don't have their own campus police department to handle it - we will.

  3. "My suggestion would be to turn over any felony crime that occurs on the Meramec campus to the Kirkwood Police."

    I agree except it should be mandatory in order to protect campus police from retaliation, along with guidelines about when it crosses the felony threshold.

  4. I wholeheartedly agree with you, Chief. If I recall, at one time the old JCD (Junior College District) Police were all excellent at their work (a couple of the guys at Forest Park were also members of the Major Case Squad), and I'm hoping that the current campus police have not adopted a "rent-a-cop"/"security guard" mentality.

  5. Excellent post, Chief. I'm with you on this 100%

  6. Having lived in other urban areas, like South Florida, it's hard to believe any school would be hesitant about involving the police, since failing to do so opens up all kinds of liability issues for the school and the district, particularly when it comes to violence and drugs. Though many Florida municipalities have gone way too far, such as the 16-year-old girl who was recently charged as an adult with multiple felony counts, after she created a chemical reaction in a plastic bottle that resulted in a minor explosion, about the size of a firecracker, on her high school campus. No doubt those hard line approaches have come as a result of changing laws since 9/11. But in my opinion best to err on the side of caution, and allow the police Supervisors to decide what is appropriate in a particular situation.

    I must say I'm shocked by the heroin problem here in St. Louis. South Florida Law enforcement has a great deal of experience dealing with drugs and drug trafficking that had permeated a community on almost every level at one point. With a lot of help from the DEA, FBI, IRS and the ATF they managed to suppress most of the corrupting influences that were so prevalent through the 70s 80s and into the 90s, and seem to have a handle on it today, but it's always an ongoing struggle in a place like that with ports and so much sea access. How did heroine get to be so seemingly out of control here in a midwest city, where is it coming from and who is responsible? In these situations you have to interdict supply lines and uncover the corruption that always comes with drug trafficking.

  7. Chief, I don't know if handing cases over to a municipal police department is really the answer. I was under the impression that the Community College campus police officers had the same class A peace officer license as their county and municipal counterparts. Isn't that the case? None of the campus police officers I've seen had an armed security guard license clipped to their shirt like a guard from Whelan or Brinks.

    In fact, it always seemed to me that most campus police officers were former county or municipal police officers, and that some of the older officers were collecting a pension from another department. For example, look a the chiefs of these campus police departments. At Meramec, you have Paul Banta former Chief of Police in Des Peres. At Florissant Valley and Wildwood, you have Robert Stewart the former Chief of Police in Berkeley. At Forest Park, you have Richard Banahan a former Sergeant with the City of St. Louis Metropolitan Police. At Washington University, you have Don Strom former Chief of Police in Carbondale, IL. I know I don't need to tell you who's at the University of Missouri – St. Louis. There you have Forrest Van Ness, former Captain with the St. Louis County Police where he commanded the City of Fenton precinct.

    Are these men not experienced police administrators? Are they unable to run a professional campus police department capable of handling a serious assault case? Are you prepared to suggest that Florissant Valley have Florissant or Calverton Park handle felonies on campus? Are you prepared to suggest that UMSL have Normandy or Bel-Nor handle felonies on campus? Does Wash. U. need Clayton or U. City to handle felonies on campus? Has law enforcement on the Meramec campus broken down to the point where the County Police must move in like Wellston, Kinloch, or Dellwood?

    Don't get me wrong, the case was mishandled, and I think Chief Paul Banta should have resigned along with Campus President George Wasson. However, I don't think the answer is simply calling in another department.

    1. First, a correction. In my previous post, I stated that Paul Banta was the Chief of the Des Peres Police Department. That is incorrect. Paul Banta was a Lieutenant in the Des Peres Police Department. After 33 years in Des Peres, he retired from the Department in 2007 to take the position at Meramec. In addition, he was Assistant/Deputy Commander of the Major Case Squad of Greater St. Louis. While he wasn't Chief of Police, I think it's fair to say Banta is an experienced law enforcement official and criminal investigator who is well regarded by his peers.

      There have been some recent developments to this case. I suspect Chief Fitch may write a blog post in response to these recent developments. I, for one, would be interested in what Chief Fitch thinks about these developments. An investigation of the College's actions by Armstrong Teasdale has been completed, and a report has been issued. The report can be found here:

      Aurora Hill, the instructor who responded to Blythe Grupe's scream when Jevon Mallory attacked her, was recently honored by the St. Louis Community College Board of Trustees. A recommendation made in the report.

      According to the report, Banta didn't act appropriately, or simply failed to act. The report is also critical of Robert Stewart, the Chief of Police for the St. Louis Community College District. As District Chief, Stewart is Campus Chief Banta's direct supervisor.

      The report concludes that Meramec Campus Police officers needed training in interrogation techniques, warrant application procedures, and appropriate victim interaction. Yet, these officers are ostensibly graduates of a POST-approved training academy and possess a class A peace officer license. Did Stewart or Banta fail to provide the required in-service and POST-approved continuing education for officers?

      In addition, the reports suggests that “the College should investigate the possibility of having local municipal law enforcement cover the campus as opposed to having its own police force.” It echos Chief Fitch's conclusion that the Kirkwood Police Department should handle felonies on campus.

      Based on the report, Chief Banta is the reason the case was mishandled. According to the report, Banta downplayed the seriousness of the attack when speaking to the prosecuting attorney's office and Chief Stewart. In addition, he failed to follow up with the prosecutor and ordered the suspect released. If the Meramec Campus Police were required to notify the Kirkwood Police in the event of a felony, it's clear Banta wouldn't have done it. According to the report, Banta thought the attack was an assault in the 3rd degree, a misdemeanor.

  8. That was well said APS221!!!


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