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Deputy sues St. Louis Sheriff Vernon Betts, claiming racial discrimination and retaliation

St. Louis Sheriff Vernon Betts stands with his arms raised, wearing a brown uniform and a hat that says SHERIFF.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Sheriff Vernon Betts addresses reporters downtown this month. A deputy sheriff has sued the sheriff, claiming he was subject to retaliation after he didn't support Betts politically.

A deputy sheriff in St. Louis has sued Sheriff Vernon Betts for employment discrimination and retaliation, and a recorded phone call allegedly captures Betts disparaging Chalmers for not supporting him politically.

Deputy St. Louis Sheriff Steve Chalmers last year sued Betts in St. Louis Circuit Court, claiming the sheriff retaliated against him for not supporting Betts in the last two elections.

The sheriff’s office provides security for St. Louis Circuit Court and transports prisoners.

The suit claims Betts demoted Chalmers to a less desirable unit, gave him worse hours and denied him employment opportunities. It also alleges that such support wasn’t expected of lighter-skinned, younger or female employees. Both Chalmers and Betts are Black.

A recordingpublished Tuesday by the Riverfront Times and shared with St. Louis Public Radio appears to capture Betts expressing anger on a phone call with a mutual acquaintance that Chalmers did not support him during the last election.

“He f---ed with me,” Betts says in the recording. “He didn’t get out there and help me do what he should have been doing.”

The suit claims Betts regularly referred to Chalmers using racial epithets. The recording allegedly captures several instances of Betts using racial slurs.

“I should have fired his Black ass,” he said. “Whether you love me or not, you don’t mess with me, and that’s what he did. ... And he’s going to get worse than that if he [gets] one more person to call me and bother me about what somebody done to that Black-ass n-----.”

Chalmers had worked at the sheriff’s department for three years when Betts was elected to lead the office in 2016.

The deputy is seeking at least $100,000 in compensatory damages for what it calls unlawful retaliation and racial, sex and age discrimination.

The sheriff’s office declined to comment on the suit and recording, citing pending litigation.

Sarah Fentem is the health reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.