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St. Louis County Jail Director Resigns After Staffers Question Leadership

Raul Banasco, director of St. Louis County's Department of Justice Services, poses for a portrait in his office in Dec. 2019.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
Raul Banasco, director of St. Louis County's Department of Justice Services, poses for a portrait in his office in December 2019.

The head of St. Louis County's Justice Services Department has resigned roughly 24 hours after nearly 50 staff members sharply criticized his short tenure in the position, which includes overseeing the county’s jail.

Raul Banasco’s departure comes less than a year after he took the job.

Doug Moore, a spokesperson for St. Louis County Executive Sam Page, said Banasco resigned on Wednesday evening. At a meeting of the St. Louis County Council on Tuesday night, 50 staffers signed a letter saying Banasco’s leadership created a hostile work environment. Among other things, the letter accused Banasaco of tampering with promotions, throwing “temper tantrums” and running the department “like his own little playhouse.”

The letter ended with the claim that the department was on the “verge of imploding.”

“There will be a full investigation into the personnel issues that have been raised,” Moore said in a statement.

Earlier on Wednesday before Banasco’s resignation, Page was asked during his regular media briefing about the letter from the Justice Services staffers. He said that the department “is a very difficult place to work” and alluded to how several people had died in the jailover the past several years.

“People who are in our custody in our county jail are very sick. Many of them have serious issues with substance abuse or mental health challenges. And we recognize that this is a difficult place,” Page said. “We’ve had a lot of struggles over there over the past three or four years that were very high profile. The director was brought into change the direction, to improve the cooperation and training between our corrections officers and our nurses, and he’s done that.”

Page added, “We’re going to take these concerns very seriously.”

“Any time people are working in a difficult environment and there is change, there’s going to be a lot of tension. We’re sensitive to that,” Page said. “We’re going to review these concerns and see what we can learn from them.”

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Wednesday that Mary Zabwa Taylor, a member of the Justice Services Advisory Board, called for an independent investigation appointed by the circuit court or some authority outside county government.

The Post-Dispatch also spoke to another member of the Justice Advisory Board, the Rev. Phillip Duvall, who said a former employee accused Banasco of inappropriately touching him. After Banasco was suspended Wednesday pending an investigation, Duvall said Banasco told him he “wasn’t going to serve a suspension for something he felt he didn’t do. So he’s going to go home and take care of his family.”

Page hired Banasco in November 2019. The New York native previously worked in Texas and Florida. He was the department’s first permanent director in nearly two years. And he said he wantedto make professional development and communication with the public priorities of his tenure.

The Justice Services Board is slated to meet on Friday.

St. Louis Public Radio's Becca Clark-Callender contributed information to this story.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

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