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Amid fumes of a federal investigation into the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department and its towing scandal, an elderly woman and others protested Aug. 29 in North St. Louis, charging that city cops violated her civil rights.
On June 20, according to 86-year-old Mary Valentine and her friend, the Rev. B.M. Brown, St. Louis police officers forced their way into her home at 3050 Thomas in North City.
Police didn’t produce a search warrant until Valentine asked for one, according to Valentine and Brown, who questioned the validity of the warrant.
The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department verified that a search warrant was executed at the address, but couldn’t comment much further pending an Internal Affairs investigation.
“We can tell you that our officers are trained to use techniques and tactics that will ensure safety, since no matter how much investigative work is done, they can never be 100 percent certain about the potential dangers that lie on the other side of the door,” said Erica Van Ross, SLMPD’s director of public information.
While the warrant describes the outside of the two-family home, it doesn’t describe the inside of the home. It doesn’t describe any individual, and the items listed to be seized covers a wide range of contraband: cocaine base, heroin, firearms, currency and records of sales—all things a drug dealer might possess.
“It sounds like they were going after a Mexican cartel,” said former city police officer and police beat columnist Michael Broughton. “Why not just put down the specifics?”
Missouri Constitution, Article I, Bill of Rights, Section 15 states, in part, “No warrant to search any place, or seize any person or thing, shall issue without describing the place to be searched, or the person or thing to be seized, as nearly as may be.”
On Valentine’s behalf, Brown tried to talk with then-Police Chief Joe Mokwa before the towing scandal broke and he resigned. She subsequently wrote the Board of Police Commissioners and initiated a report with Internal Affairs. Brown said she doesn’t seem to be getting anywhere and doesn’t trust the police board or IA.
“We’ve been battling since June,” Brown said. “The (police) board is for the birds, when it comes to citizens. I talked to one board member, but he was very insulting. They just closed the door in our face.”
Valentine wants an apology from the department and compensation for the damage done to her psyche and home.
“She’s scared, and when she hears loud noises outside she thinks it’s the police coming in her house,” Brown said.
As one protest sign read, Mary wants respect. With a headline “Police respect us,” the sign continued with, “Mary V is a human being, a mother, an American, taxpayer, homeowner and child of God.”
The warrant used for the search describes the targeted house as a two-family home with two doors. However, Valentine said the officers entered through her private, personal door, shaking up the elderly woman.
“This is no way to treat a woman,” Valentine said at a protest in front of her home.
Brown said, “There’s a side entrance where Mary lives, so I don’t understand why they didn’t go in through the front door.”
Broughton echoed Brown’s remarks. “If you knew going in that it’s a two-family house, why do you not have two search warrants?” Broughton asked.
Valentine said the police found nothing listed on the search warrant, though she said they ransacked the home and left a burn mark from a “smoke bomb” on her rug.
She said a safe—not mentioned in the search warrant—was broken open. She said it only had stationery inside.
“When they realized they’d been had, why didn’t they just get everyone’s information and write a report for a complaint number and take it to the City counselor, who could get the right department to pay for damages?” Broughton said.
Instead, Valentine and Brown said the officers threatened to take the elderly lady’s house when they left.