Commentary Violence

The Embrace of Gov. Eric Greitens by Police Chiefs Association Disrespects Survivors of Sexual Assault (Updated)

Pamela Merritt

One would think that public figures and organizations would avoid Greitens like the plague, but that’s not the case.

UPDATE, May 15, 3:30 p.m.: Prosecutors dropped the felony invasion-of-privacy charge against Greitens on Monday evening, but “the St. Louis Circuit attorney’s office said it would now seek a special prosecutor, and that the case against the governor could be refiled at some point,” according to the New York Times. The second separate charge remains.

There are so many scandals swirling around Missouri Governor Eric Greitens it’s hard to keep track. Once a rising star in the Republican Party with legitimate presidential aspirations, Greitens is now fighting two felony charges. One is a first-degree invasion of privacy felony charge for which his trial began this week. The other is a separate felony charge relating to his campaign’s alleged computer data tampering in regards to procurement of a charity’s donor list without the organization’s knowledge.

There’s more. A Missouri house committee convened to investigate Greitens released a shocking report in April containing new allegations of physical violence and sexual assault associated with the invasion of privacy investigation. And Missouri’s attorney general has opened a Sunshine Law investigation into the Greitens administration’s controversial use of social media.

One would think that public figures and organizations would avoid Greitens like the plague, but that’s not the case. The St. Louis Area Police Chiefs Association made news when they stood by their decision to have Greitens keynote their annual prayer breakfast in late April.

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When asked about that decision, Wentzville Police Chief and chairman of the St. Louis Area Police Chiefs Association Kurt Frisz said, “This is about a memorial breakfast and I mentioned it to someone else before—I said, ‘We’re still operating in a world of you’re innocent until proven guilty.’”

Yes, Gov. Greitens should be presumed innocent until proven guilty. But there’s a huge difference between upholding that legal principle and giving a man indicted for two felonies who has also been accused of horrific acts of violence and intimidation a platform at an event organized by law enforcement less than two weeks before he goes to trial.

Where was the presumption of innocence when Michael Brown was gunned down in Ferguson? Where was it when Anna Brown (no relation) died in agony in a St. Louis County jail cell after being arrested for seeking health care while Black and homeless? But St. Louis area police chiefs just handed our twice-indicted governor a public display of support weeks before he goes on trial for his first felony charge.

The St. Louis Area Police Chiefs Association didn’t just send a big message of support for Greitens to potential jurors, the organization also sent an alarmingly disrespectful message to survivors of sexual assault.

Sexual assault is a serious issue within police departments nationally, and was the subject of an outrageous scandal in the St. Louis area recently in the news. In 2015, Brittany Walker reported to police that a law enforcement officer assaulted her in her home. She turned over DNA evidence of the assault. The officer quickly resigned, and the circuit attorney for the City of St. Louis declined to press charges. Following the release of a short documentary and the December 2017 publication of Walker’s story in the Riverfront Times, the new St. Louis circuit attorney announced her office would revisit the case. In February, former St. Louis police officer John Stewart was charged with one count of sodomy based on that investigation.

Less than two months later, the St. Louis Area Police Chiefs Association invited Gov. Eric Greitens, a man accused of sexual and physical assault and indicted for felony invasion of privacy related to those accusations, to keynote an event honoring law enforcement. If timing is everything, the timing of this couldn’t be more insulting.

“He has been a tremendous supporter of law enforcement,” Frisz said in an interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch prior to the event.

Yep, Governor Eric Greitens is a huge supporter of police officers and the affection is clearly mutual. If our police departments were merely publicly funded gangs, that wouldn’t be a problem. They aren’t, and it is.

Missourians and people visiting Missouri deserve law enforcement agencies committed to public service, not to rewarding political favors to politicians now under criminal indictment. Survivors of sexual assault deserve law enforcement agencies dedicated to enforcing the law even when one of their own or one of their pals is under investigation. Years of militarized policing, racial profiling, shootings by police officers, and apathetic investigations into sexual assault by law enforcement officers have seriously damaged the public’s trust in the St. Louis Police Department. Inviting Eric Greitens to keynote a law enforcement event made it clear that the St. Louis Area Police Chiefs Association could not care less.

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