St. Louis County has settled a discrimination and retaliation lawsuit for $750,000, five years after retired Sgt. Daniel O’Neil took on the pen name “Lonewolf” to alert the department’s top brass about a police lieutenant he believed was issuing racist orders.
County counselor Peter Krane released the settlement agreement to the Post-Dispatch Thursday in response to a Sunshine request. It awards $30,000 in lost wages to O’Neil as well as $400,000 to an annuity that will pay O’Neil about $2,700 monthly for the next 15 years. It also awards $320,000 to O’Neil’s attorney, Jerome Dobson.
The settlement includes a confidentiality agreement, under which both sides agreed not to discuss the matter publicly.
County police spokesman Sgt. Shawn McGuire said he was unaware of any settlements with O’Neil and referred all questions to the county counselor’s office.
Tim Fitch was the police chief when O’Neil sent a letter to him and other police commanders just before Christmas 2013 saying that his lieutenant, Patrick “Rick” Hayes, was ordering officers to racially profile black people in and around shopping centers in south St. Louis County. O’Neil signed the letter as “the Lonewolf.” Fitch launched an internal affairs investigation, during which O’Neil revealed his identity.
Fitch fired Hayes, saying that multiple officers substantiated O’Neil’s allegations but that the department found no evidence that any officers followed Hayes’ racist orders. Hayes appealed his termination to the civilian Board of Police Commissioners, which reinstated Hayes but demoted him to the rank of police officer in March 2016, saying, in part, that termination was too harsh a punishment for the allegations.
Hayes is now suing to get back pay and pension payments at his lieutenant rank, noting that the hearing officer who presided over Hayes’ appeal to the board gave O’Neil a new moniker, “The Pied Piper,” who led other officers who “recited” lines O’Neil gave them to tell internal affairs investigators about Hayes.
Hayes has accused O’Neil of making up allegations against him because he didn’t like his efforts to make O’Neil and others work harder.
O’Neil’s lawsuit said Fitch’s administration retaliated against him by unwarranted written discipline, taking away his take-home patrol car, transferring him to another district and randomly drug testing him once his identity as the whistleblower was known.
Fitch said the department revoked the take-home car after O’Neil went on long-term sick leave, transferred him from his district and drug tested him as part of routine department standards for every officer.
“We did everything based on the advice of county counselors,” Fitch said Friday. “If I would have been asked, I would have recommended it be taken to trial instead of there being any kind of settlement.”
O’Neil retired in 2017 after 25 years with the police department. He told the Post-Dispatch that until he outed himself as the letter writer, the only written discipline he had in his career was for losing his badge.
He took an extended medical leave in April 2014, telling the Post-Dispatch then, “The stress of knowing everyone there wants your head has turned me into a nervous wreck.”
Joel Currier of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.
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