ST. LOUIS (AP) — The police chief in St. Louis County announced Monday that he is leaving the department, months after his leadership was called into question when a gay officer was awarded $20 million in a discrimination lawsuit.
Jon Belmar, 56, has led the department, one of Missouri’s largest with 1,362 employees, since January 2014. He will remain on the job through April, when he plans to end his 34-year law enforcement career.
“The dedication, sacrifice, and bravery of those that work for this Department is unmatched,” Belmar said in a statement. “The citizens and businesses of St. Louis County deserve nothing but the best, and I firmly believe they receive that from us every day.”
Ray Price, chairman of the county police board, praised Belmar, calling the department “one of the finest” in the country under his leadership.
Belmar drew criticism in October after a jury found that Sgt. Keith Wildhaber had been overlooked nearly two dozen times for promotions because of his sexual orientation. Democratic Councilwoman Lisa Clancy urged Belmar to resign after the jury’s massive award for Wildhaber.
County Executive Sam Page, also a Democrat, stood by Belmar but replaced four of the five police board members. Page, in a statement, said Belmar told him a year ago that he was considering retirement in 2020.
“His career is long and accomplished, and I appreciate the work he has done,” Page said.
In December, Belmar announced that Wildhaber was promoted to lieutenant and would lead a new diversity and inclusion unit.
Belmar’s tenure was also marked by unrest in Ferguson that followed the fatal police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown. The Ferguson officer who shot Brown, Darren Wilson, was not charged and resigned in November 2014.
But the shooting of the black and unarmed teenager led to months of often violent clashes between demonstrators and police, including St. Louis County officers. Police drew criticism for the military-style response to the protests.
Belmar defended police actions such as using tear gas, noting that officers were sometimes shot at and barraged with rocks and bottles.
Page said he has already began discussions with the police board on finding a replacement.