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Isom stepping down as head of Missouri Department of Public Safety

Bill Greenblatt, UPI
Dan Isom at a news conference last fall with Gov. Jay Nixon.

Gov. Jay Nixon's office confirmed late Wednesday that former St. Louis Police Chief Daniel Isom was stepping down from his new job as director of the Missouri Department of Public Safety.

Nixon chose Isom last fall, amid the unrest in Ferguson. The former chief was only confirmed in January. Isom's decision to step down touched off unrest in the state Capitol, with allies blaming the governor for Isom's swift exit.

“I am extremely disappointed that Dr. Isom must not have been given the leeway to make reforms necessary after the unrest in Ferguson,” said state Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, who had led the Senate effort to confirm Isom.

Nasheed said in a statement Wednesday that she had talked to Isom before the confirmation of his departure by the governor's office.

Various sources asserted that Isom had become frustrated with the lack of support from Nixon's office.  A spokesman with the University of Missouri-St. Louis confirmed Wednesday afternoon that Isom planned to end his leave of absence and return to his full-time position on the university’s faculty.

In a statement late Wednesday, Nixon made no reference to any discord. “Over the last six months, Dan Isom has been a strong leader for the department and an invaluable member of my cabinet,” the governor said. “I am deeply grateful for his wise counsel and leadership, and wish him all the best as he resumes his work at UMSL.”

Isom will return to his UMSL post as the E. Desmond Lee Professor of Policing and the Community for the nationally recognized Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice.

The governor's statement includes a quote from Isom, in which he said, "It has been a great honor to serve as the Director of Public Safety during this important time, but after a long career in law enforcement I have found that my true passion is teaching and I’m eager to return to my students at UMSL..."

Nixon said he will name Peter Lyskowski as acting director of the department "until a permanent director is appointed. In addition, former Dunklin County Prosecuting Attorney Stephen Sokoloff, of Kennett, will be joining the department as a deputy director."

Lyskowski has been Nixon's deputy chief of staff.

Isom's appointment had been crucial for Nixon, in part, because the governor had been under fire last summer and fall for having few minorities in top jobs within his administration.

Nasheed was critical of how Nixon's office had dealt with Isom.  “I sponsored Dr. Isom’s nomination because I believe that he has the ability and experience to reform the justice system in the state of Missouri. The governor needs to start taking responsibility for these needed reforms. This state needs leadership, and the governor is not showing that right now.”

Jefferson City correspondent Marshall Griffin contributed to this report.

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.
Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.
Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.