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Fitch's blog post accuses 'political researchers' of digging up dirt

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: The controversy over a subcontract for St. Louis County’s crime lab took another turn on Monday when St. Louis County Police Chief Tim Fitch accused unnamed “political researchers” of digging up dirt about him and his department.

In the blog post published Monday night, Fitch said that he had received requests in the last week from a private entity for his travel and expense records. He did not specify who had sought the records, which presumably were requested under the state's Sunshine Law.

Fitch alleged that the requests were reminiscent of an earlier episode that occurred after he called for a countywide vote to ban speed cameras. 

In his post, Fitch said that after he came out for a county-wide vote to ban speeding cameras, “those who felt threatened” by the move “hired a political research company to review my taxes, work expenditures and anything else they could find to discredit me or the police department.” 

“Those who actually hired the research company would never ask for the records themselves,” Fitch wrote. “They hide behind a political research company, so nobody will know who's paying them. That's how this stuff works.”

He went on to say that “if they can't successfully find some scandal about me, they will do their best to find misdeeds of my family and/or the 1,100 employees who belong to the county police family.“

“I wish them all the luck in the world,” he wrote.

Fitch's blog post comes a day before the St. Louis County Council is expected to consider Dooley's two new appointments to the police board. The  chief executive, a Democrat, announced last week that he was appointing Republican Dave Spence and Democrat Freddy Clark to fill two vacancies.

The appointments must be approved by the council.

The new appointments come amid recent articles by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch examining a subcontract for heating and air conditioning construction for St. Louis County’s new crime lab. The paper reported that the county awarded a contract to ICS Construction Service, which then awarded a subcontract to SM Mechanical LLC for $3.7 million worth of heating and air conditioning work.

Gregory Sansone, a former member of the St. Louis County Board of Police Commissioners who has since resigned, is an owner of SM Mechanical LLC.

Amid questions whether that contract amounted to a conflict of interest, Fitch publicly called for a FBI investigation into the matter. Since then, he's gotten into some high-profile disagreements with St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley. That includes issuing a terse letter questioning whether St. Louis County chief operating officer Garry Earls had improperly inquired about the FBI investigation, which Dooley strongly denied.

Some – including the St. Louis County Police Association – accused Dooley of trying to rejigger the St. Louis Police County Board of Police Commissioners to oust Fitch. Dooley flatly denied earlier this month that he was attempting such a move.

In his post, Fitch alleged that his predecessor, Chief Jerry Lee, had been the subject of similar scrutiny from his critics (including the county executive) and opted to step down. Fitch implied that the requests for his records may indicate that he now is being targeted.

Fitch said that, so far, “the best they could come up with is the fact that I promoted several officers who were named in a 2008 lawsuit that the county counselor's office settled out of court for $46,000." 

"This was a case where it was alleged that the officers used force and the suspect died," he wrote. "Really?  Do you think if the officers actually caused a death, any plaintiff's lawyer would have settled for $46,000?"  

Fitch then alleged that the researcher who had obtained his records last year, in the midst of the speed camera controversy, “wrote his own story” and sent it anonymously to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The researcher also alleged to the newspaper that there was a “rumor” that Fitch was going to run for county executive, the chief said.

“Good one,” Fitch wrote. “That's the best he could come up with? The political consultant is a former Post-Dispatch reporter and is known for his skill in research. Somebody was paying him good money to find dirt on me.  He paid $250 just for my travel records.  You haven't seen a story about my travel records, so one can assume I didn't go to Hawaii on the county's dime.”

He then wrote he received last week more requests for his travel records and expenses. He added that the “people doing it this time should get with the political researcher from last year and compare notes.” 

“Here's some news for them; we are not perfect, but neither are they,” Fitch said. “We can withstand the [scrutiny]. This is a dirty game, but it's the only way they know how to play it.  They go after those who are disloyal or threaten the status quo.  You can bet that I'll keep you posted as the games continue.”

After the Beacon put in an inquiry on Tuesday morning for Fitch to elaborate on his blog, St. Louis County Police Department spokesman Rick Eckhard said in an e-mail "the chief has informed me that he is not interested in commenting further at this time and that the Blog speaks for itself."

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.