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Despite flaws, protesters urged to file police complaints with St. Louis Civilian Oversight Board

Nicolle Barton, the executive director of the St. Louis Civilian Oversight Board, talks to Christopher Reichard about the complaint he has just filed with the board. Reichard claims police pepper-sprayed him for no reason while he was protesting the verdi
Rachel Lippmann | St. Louis Public Radio

Many people demonstrating over former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley’s acquittal of first-degree murder believethe Civilian Oversight Board needs more power.

But they are still being encouraged to file complaints with the board, which helps oversee police discipline.

St. Louis Aldermen approved the oversight board in 2015. Its members began taking complaints in 2016. In addition to overseeing internal affairs investigations of those complaints, the board can conduct its own investigations if it believes the Internal Affairs Division fell short. Members can also recommend changes to department policies.

The board’s power is limited. It does not have subpoena power to compel witnesses to testify or to get access to documents. And the board is part of the city’s public safety department, which also includes the police.

But an imperfect oversight board is still better than the police internal affairs division, said Derek Laney with the Coalition Against Police Crimes and Repression.

“We trust the Civilian Oversight Board much more than we trust the [Internal Affairs Division] of the police,” Laney said.  “If they don’t have cases before them, they’re just sitting idle. So we really want to give them some work to do so they can be about the job of holding them accountable.”

Laney’s group recently hosted a pizza party to encourage people to file complaints with the board. Among those who filled out the form was Christopher Reichard of Arnold. 

Reichard said he was among the protesters who were sprayed by police with a chemical agent for no reason while marching in the Central West End on Sept. 15, the night the judge released his decision to acquit Stockley. He said he had been planning to file a complaint all along, but waited for the party to follow through.

Using a flawed process is better than nothing, Reichard said.

“How do you expect things to change if you don’t put the wheels in motion in order to get to a new place?” he said.

The oversight board’s executive director, Nicolle Barton, said she was excited protesters were being encouraged to file complaints.

”It’s important for us to be able to get the information so there’s a proper investigation done and so we can move forward with working with the department and engage the community’s trust again,” Barton said.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

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