Police Chief John Hayden

St. Louis Metropolitan Police Chief John Hayden spoke with reporters and editors at The St. Louis American’s downtown offices on Thursday, January 4.

Photo by Rebecca Rivas

The St. Louis American sat down for a long, candid conversation with new St. Louis Metropolitan Police Chief John Hayden on January 4. Questions and answers have been lightly edited for space. 

The American: At the September 29 protest near Busch Stadium, protestors were maced and one was tased. However, at a different protest at the same place, called “white ally night,” protestors were pushing the police (unlike on the 29th), but police didn’t use any chemicals or take any actions against them. Could you speak to why there was such a disparity between those two nights?

Hayden: The nights I was working were September 28 and September 29. That being said, I can’t speak to what people say they experience as a disparity when they encounter the police. I just know there was none of that going on when I was working. I have no motive for that.

What I hope to do by working with Forward Through Ferguson is to talk to protestors about things that they thought were helpful and things that obviously weren’t. Obviously, the kettling incident is something that people would refer to as something really awful. I wasn’t working that night. I’m not making any excuses for anything about that night. It’s under federal investigation. I am interested in future conversations. My conversations with protestors will be: How do we prevent you all from getting hurt and officers getting hurt? We don’t have to hurt each other.

The American: In the Milton Green shooting, here is a North City police officer who is very well respected. He gets shot (on June 21) by a white officer, and his shooting is lied about to the public. After it was revealed that what then-interim chief Lawrence O’Toole said was not true, there was no apology. In fact, he even got a promotion. How are you going to address the Milton Green shooting now that you are chief?

Hayden: I don’t know all the facts that surround the shooting. We know that at some point Milton Green was disarmed and given his pistol back by the people who were disarming him. And then someone came around the corner and that was the officer who shot him right away. At the end of the day, when I see the final report, I don’t know if that is going to look like discipline is more needed or training is more needed. Or a combination of both. What I promise you is in my six years as commander in the Internal Affairs Division that I’ve seen a lot of significant misconduct cases, and I don’t have any pause about taking the corrective action that needs to be taken.

The American: You know that the then-interim police chief knew what the situation was before he gave his public statement. Can you discipline him in some way now that you’re police chief?

Hayden: Certainly that’s possible. I now know that the statement he gave that night was different than the statement he gave the next day. It’s possible that in that review that he did something that was inappropriate. That’s certainly possible. 

The American: When O’Toole was in front of the media, is there a possibility in any way that you were better informed than the police chief?

Hayden: He would have had to be better informed than me.

The American: What he said in its basic sense that night was not what you knew to be true even in that moment. And he had more information that you. He said that Green was shot during crossfire, when officers were shooting at the two individuals who were running and firing back. He did not say that the white officer walked up to two police officers talking at the scene, and Green was shot. He lied during his public statement and that has outraged the community. And you have an opportunity, because this man still works for the police department, to do something about it.

Hayden: I don’t believe the community is holding me accountable for something that came out of his mouth. However, I do have an opportunity to review it and make a determination on my own.

The American: Why I keep bringing you into this question is that he lied. And we know that he lied because you knew it …

Hayden: I think here is the key. I didn’t know that he lied until the next day. When you’re standing there, you’re not like parsing his words. I was aware that there was a black and white officer involved. I wasn't talking. He was talking. Now you’re saying that I heard him lying. I’m saying that he was being reserved in his statement. Hey, we are all being reserved in our statements when we are trying to make sure we are talking factually. I’m not sure when I read it that I would say, “Night one he was lying.” and “night two he was telling the truth.” We do know that he told two different statements. I will look at them to see if there is something that indicates some deception involved, as opposed to just not knowing what you’re talking about.

The American: In a very short period of time, we believe O’Toole told this lie at a very critical moment. He blessed some really brutal, and what a federal judge declared to be unconstitutional, policing. Then they leave him as assistant chief and give him a raise, which to anyone who has been watching this police department looks like it’s blessing someone who has blessed the worse. So if you are coming in as a change chief who has to get this community to trust this department again, and yet they’ve hung him around your neck, how can you actually lead this department towards sustainable change in community policing?

Hayden: I guess it’s getting a little warm in here, but I guess that’s part of the job. (Wipes sweat from brow.) My record when it comes to holding people accountable is impeccable. There’s nobody on this department – there’s probably no one in this region – that has more critical administrative experience in the area of dealing with misconduct. I’ve participated with the FBI to send people to jail. I’m no stranger to that. Chief O’Toole, the fact that he’s around, is not going to hinder me to do the right thing. He’s not going to be an impediment to what I need to do to regain community trust.

One of the things I’m going to do is all citizen complaints are going to be investigated by the Internal Affairs Division. We’ve always had situations where they can be district-level investigations. But at the end of the day, if someone works for me and I’m the one doing the investigation, there’s an implicit bias just because the person who works for me is the one I’m investigating. So I’m taking it out of the district-level investigation.

The messaging is very important. My intolerance for misconduct. My intolerance for some of the things we’ve seen. Hey, my intolerance for the Jason Stockley case. Myself and Col. Paul Nocchiero were the first ones who made the reference, saying we need to let the Circuit Attorney’s Office look at this. We need to let the FBI look at this. We need to let the Department of Justice look at this. That was our referral. What people are saying is that when you have aberrant behavior, they want accountability and the IUD was pointing in the right direction. I’m not the judge and the jury. I’m saying this is the worst example of police work that I’d seen, and I wasn’t ashamed to say that.

The American: The three North Patrol officers who are under federal investigation for beating an undercover cop during the September 17 protest. One of them just got a promotion. If there’s a finding of wrongdoing, do you demote him? What do you do?

Hayden: It’s going to heavily depend on the findings. The federal investigators, what they are looking for now is whether or not folks’ civil rights were violated. When they are done with that, I’ll be able to read some stuff and I’ll be able to make a determination as to what will happen next.

The American: During the community forum, you talked about independent investigations of police-involved shootings. You said in the interim, before working with the Highway Patrol as the Ferguson report recommended, there could be some kind of task force. When do you plan on getting that task force up and going?

Hayden: Right now, we have a force investigative unit. Forward Through Ferguson recommends that the attorney general looks into all police-involved shootings, and that the investigative unit would be the Highway Patrol, unless they’re involved. At the forum, someone asked if I embrace the concept. Absolutely. Would that help restore public trust? Possibly. But I haven’t taken any steps to form a task force.

The American: You also mentioned anti-bias, anti-racism training. When do you plan on implementing that?

Hayden: I’m very much open to that. We haven’t discussed a cost. I’ll have to sit down with the persons who organize our continued education. I saw a lot of meaning conversations in that room.

The American: How do you reach that cop who is who he is and no police chief is going to tell him to be any different?

Hayden: I should be able to govern the behavior through policy. But when you understand the story and when you understand that some of these communities need empathy. We need to understand why these kids feel like they have no other choices other than drug activity. Those are things are very important as opposed to saying, “You’re doing this and I’m going to lock you up.” I was also a trainer in the academy for five years. I have a sphere of influence over people who have a sphere of influence. I’ve trained a lot of the lieutenants, sergeants and captains.

The American: Is there a timeline to when you might look into the Milton Green shooting?

Hayden: There is a legitimate impasse that prevents it from going any farther than it’s gone. I can’t tell you what the impasse is.

The American: But you will be reviewing the interim chief’s actions in the statement he gave?

Hayden: I don’t know that there is an allegation prepared already. What’s under investigation is whether or not the use of force was excessive.

The American: You are now chief and you can look into the actions of Lawrence O’Toole.

Hayden: I am able to look into the actions of department employees. Yes, mam.

The American: What were the years you were with Chief Mokwa and how closely did you work with him?

Hayden: I was his executive aide from 2001 to 2007.

The American: That was before the Metropolitan Towing scandal?

Hayden: I was in IAD when that issue came up. It was a federal investigation, so I didn’t review it.

The American: When you were working closely with Mokwa, did you accompany him to  Metropolitan Towing at any time?

Hayden: I can’t say that I never did because sometimes I drove as well. Most of my work was reading reports.

The American: Did you ever see anything improper?

Hayden: I never saw anything improper, but I can tell you that I could have driven there a couple times.

The American: Many African-American men of a certain age say that Mokwa was a dirty cop coming up, that he got involved in drug deals. What was the culture of the police department around this very persistent rumor that the police chief had been a drug-dealing police officer?

Hayden: I think that some of that might come up during his promotional process. I think several colonels were sharing information on each other. I was aware that has been said. But there was nothing that he had done around me that made me suspicious or concerned about my presence with him. 

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