Forest Park officials are asking the GBI to help investigate allegations that former members of the Clayton city’s police department spied on two councilmembers on unsubstantiated charges.
The city said Wednesday that members of the Forest Park Police Department’s VIPER Squad followed, monitored and photographed Councilwoman Latresa Akins-Wells and Councilman Dabouze Antoine because officers suspected the pair of taking part in voter fraud and illegal drug activities.
The squad, which has since been disbanded, also mounted cameras on poles near the councilmembers’ homes to monitor them and went through their garbage seeking evidence.
Forest Park Police Chief Nathaniel Clark, who was not the department’s leader during the alleged surveillance of the councilmembers, said no evidence was found to substantiate the allegations against Wells and Antoine.
“On behalf of the residents of the city of Forest Park, I extend my apologies to Councilwoman Wells and Councilman Antoine, and I extend my gratitude to Chief Clark for making every effort to help us move past this situation in a positive manner,” Forest Park City Mayor Angelyne Butler said in a statement on Wednesday.
In a post on Facebook, Wells said she felt violated. Instead of protecting the residents of Forest Park, the police department had her under surveillance because she wanted to be an agent of change.
“This is not what this city will be known for!” she wrote. “This is not what me nor my family or community will let be OK!”
The outreach to the GBI comes as Forest Park, which has a population of about 20,000 people, is restructuring its police department after accusations of financial mismanagement under former Police Chief Dwayne Hobbs. Hobbs was fired in October 2018 in a 3-2 vote by the council, with both Antoine and Wells voting in favor of his termination.
Just days before his firing Hobbs, who had been with the department for 45 years and was chief for 22, told Channel 2 Action News that he was being forced out because of allegations of racial profiling, which he denied.
Clark, who became chief in April, ordered an audit of the department’s operations. The audit found that accounting irregularities, systemic operating compliance failures and department funds that could not be accounted for. Thousands of dollars in training ammunition was also sold to officers for cash without being in compliance with accounting measures to track the cash flow, the city said.
Susan Ridling, the former administrative assistant for Hobbs, also reportedly said she was directed to cash thousands of dollars in checks without accounting for the funds, a violation of the city’s code. Ridling and the officer overseeing the ammunition sales, Major Chris Matson, have been terminated, the city said.
“We will leave no stone unturned to ensure that those responsible will be held accountable and punished to the full extent of the law,” Butler said Wednesday. “We now need to restore and build the highest-possible level of trust between the entire Forest Park community and the police department — that will be one of the highest priorities of this city council.”