Michael Sack becomes the latest example of white officers suing St. Louis for racism

The City of St. Louis undertook two separate searches and evaluated more than 30 candidates before announcing its selection of Robert Tracy to lead the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department. Some seven months later, on July 31, Lt. Col. Michael Sack filed a lawsuit that alleged “a history of racial discrimination against department employees, both African American and Caucasian.”

Sack was one of two finalists for the job. His lawsuit was among the cases taken up Wednesday by St. Louis on the Air’s Legal Roundtable.

Sack’s lawsuit is at least the fourth example of a white St. Louis officer filing a lawsuit claiming racial discrimination. Since 2013, the city has paid multiple six-figure settlements to white officers. That includes $620,000 paid in 2013 to Sgt. David Bonenberger. (Bonenberger subsequently sued the department a second time for retaliation, leading to a $725,000 settlement in 2016, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.)

In 2017, St. Louis agreed to pay $300,000 to Maj. Michael Caruso. More recently, in 2022, the city paid $162,000 to settle a federal lawsuit filed by Lt. Col. Lawrence O’Toole, who had accused the city of passing over him for chief because he is white.

Javad Khazaeli, a former prosecutor and founding member with the St. Louis firm Khazaeli Wyrsch, called Sack’s lawsuit a sign that “We’re in a very bizarre place in the criminal justice world in St. Louis” and that “there are people out there making the argument that the really oppressed people in America, in St. Louis, in the criminal justice system, are white police officers.”

“We’re getting into this cycle,” he added, “where these officers are arguing that they have a right to a job.”

Dave Roland, the director of litigation at the Freedom Center of Missouri, noted that Sack’s argument for discrimination could be weakened in court by St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones’ decision to hire a white police chief.

“She did ultimately end up hiring a white person to fill this role,” he said. “And so I think that makes this a very difficult case to win.”

Along with Khazaeli and Roland, the Legal Roundtable included Susan McGraugh, director of the criminal defense legal clinic at St. Louis University School of Law. In addition to Sack’s lawsuit, they discussed a lawsuit challenging a state law that allows parents to be jailed if their children miss too much school, a judge’s order against the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and a local physician who is suing her former employer over its vaccine mandate.

To hear analyses of those cases from the Legal Roundtable, listen to St. Louis on the Air on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcast or Stitcher or by clicking the play button below.

Legal Roundtable takes on Michael Sack lawsuit, and more

Attorneys Javad Khazaeli, Dave Roland and Susan McGraugh dive into local and regional lawsuits and litigation.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Ulaa Kuziez is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to talk@stlpr.org.

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