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State appeals court agrees with 2011 dismissal of former city corrections commissioner

Former St. Louis corrections commissioner Gene Stubblefield and his attorney at a 2011 hearing of the city's public safety committee
Rachel Lippmann | St. Louis Public Radio
A Tuesday hearing of the public safety committee was the first time suspended corrections commissioner Gene Stubblefield (L) answered questions about recent jail breaks. His attorney, Sherrie Schroder, is at right.

A Missouri appeals court has upheld the 2011 firing of the city’s former corrections commissioner, Eugene Stubblefield.

The Eastern District of the Missouri Court of Appeals affirmed the July 16, 2014, opinion of Judge Robert Dierker without making its reasoning public. Dierker had ruled there was plenty of evidence that the city of St. Louis had just cause to let Stubblefield go.

Mayor Francis Slay fired Stubblefieldin December 2011, after placing him on extended unpaid leave. Stubbblefield was officially cited for problems with record-keeping and failing to follow city contracting laws, but his dismissal came shortly after three successful escapes from the city's jails in 11 months. A fourth escape occurred shortly after Stubblefield was first suspended.

An October 2011 report written by then-Capt. Sam Dotson, who was serving as the mayor's operations director, found a culture of complacency that contributed to problems in all aspects of jail operations, including the escapes, an inability to hire enough corrections officers, and disregard for basic budget procedure.

Stubblefield appealed his firing to the city's Civil Service Commission. When the three-member board upheld his dismissal, Stubblefield sued, claiming he had been treated unfairly because he was black. He also claimed the charges filed against him were vague, and the city used his extended unpaid leave to "engage in a fishing expedition to discover or manipulate any evidence or wrongdoing, no matter how spurious or unsubstantiated a charge may have been, so that the City could scapegoat Plaintiff [Stubblefield] to relieve itself of the recent embarrassment of jail escapes."

In rejecting those arguments, Dierker wrote in 2014 that "to discharge the corrections commissioner for failing to prevent prisoner escapes is not an illegal motive; to discharge a corrections commissioner on the basis of fiscal mismanagement, even if the real reason is to punish him for escapes which embarrass the City and its officers is not forbidden by law."

Stubblefield still has a federal equal employment case pending against the city. That case is set to go to trial in September.

Follow  Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.