An online controversy over a viral police body cam video involving Houston’s mayor spilled out Monday night before a meeting of the town’s council.
With seats full, more than 100 gathered online and a Springfield television station’s camera grinding, there was little comment. The meeting lasted about 30 minutes.
The 16-minute video was posted on a social media account, “Conservatives for Rural Missouri,” last Wednesday and erupted into an immediate online controversy that spread rapidly over several days due in part because it involves the city’s top elected official, Mayor Willy Walker. By Tuesday, the video had been seen 43,000 times on one social media post and spread to other corners of the internet. It also attracted regional television coverage.
The video is from the body camera of a Houston police officer in late November who was investigating a report of a potentially drunk Cabool man.
It shows the lawman questioning the person, moving him to his patrol car and then walking toward the Pit Stop’s front door. Shortly later, the owners of the business, Walker and Jeremy Foster, arrive in separate vehicles. The officer asks to see the video to confirm the man had been behind the wheel of a car sitting on the lot. The request is denied by Walker and the mayor asks the officer to leave the property with Foster shouting at the officer. The man was freely allowed to leave the property. No charges were filed and no subpoena sought for the video.
The Missouri Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC) said it is investigating. “ATC is aware of this incident and is investigating,” it said in a statement released late last week, which was confirmed by Mike O’Connell, communications director for the Missouri Department of Public Safety, one of several divisions under the umbrella of the department.
At the council meeting, Alderman Kevin Stilley asked that an authenticated copy of the video — to be provided by the Houston Police Department — be viewed by the full council and not rely on the footage traveling around on the internet. Stilley was told by the city administrator that Police Chief Brad Evans and Lt. Matt Woodmansee were both away from the office and on vacation. A special closed session is set for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 21.
Board President Don Romines asked the council to consider making a statement about the controversy and distributed a sample for consideration. Stilley and council member Sam Kelley said they agreed with the statement. Kelley said Romines shouldn’t have drafted a statement without the council’s input first. Despite a short timeframe, Stilley said he wished the council could have met before Monday’s meeting. Romines said the draft was for consideration by the full council before adoption. Alderwoman Angie Gettys seconded a motion from Romines to adopt it, but the mayor said the issue hadn’t been placed on the agenda and no vote occurred.
The sample statement read:
“The city council would like to issue a statement regarding the recent police incident at a local business. We are deeply concerned about the behavior of the mayor and his fellow co-owner during this incident. We believe all members of our community, including elected officials, must conduct themselves with integrity and respect for the law. It is never acceptable for anyone, including elected officials, to inhibit the work of law enforcement. Such actions undermine the veracity and professionalism of the police and erode public trust in the community.
“The council does not condone any behavior that may be in violation of the law or brings disrepute to the office of the mayor. In the meantime, we urge the mayor and his fellow co-owner to cooperate fully with the investigation and to uphold the highest standards of conduct expected of public officials.
“We will continue to work diligently to ensure that our city is a safe and equitable place for all of our residents, and we expect all members of our community to uphold these values as well.
“We stand in solidarity with the community and the law enforcement officers who serve and product us.”
Romines asked the statement be entered into the minutes.
Police Chief Brad Evans released a statement last Thursday evening on the incident: “This was an unfortunate and completely avoidable incident. I would like to commend officer Jordan for his actions while dealing with this volatile situation,” he said. “Officer Jordan showed a tremendous amount of professionalism and restraint when faced with a challenging situation and should be recognized for his actions. The Houston Police Department will always remain transparent and do everything in our power to protect the community.”
Evans said the previous day that the Nov. 27 matter had been closed by his department.
Other items were on the agenda:
•Members approved an 8.3 percent across-the-board cost of living increase for all full-time city employees — excluding the administrator — effective with the 2023 budget, which was approved. (unanimous) Stilley told the council he wanted the salaries of all city workers to be readily available to citizens. A majority of the council had earlier expressed a need for more examination of wage issues. Walker told the council earlier that those could have been addressed during previous work sessions.
•Finalized a contract for the city administrator who began duties Oct. 1.
•Will seek asbestos testing for a home on donated property at Lilly Avenue and West Highway 17. A home with a rock exterior on the property has structural issues and may be demolished. The park board is examining use for the tract, which was donated by Marvin and Audrey Bridges’ family.
•Heard that a volunteer is seeking to make structural repairs to a barn at the Houston Municipal Golf Course to accommodate additional carts. Bays would be created. A proposed agreement may be provided later to the council.
•Learned that the status of a city broadband grant application with the Missouri Department of Economic Development will soon be known.
I saw the video and thought the officer did an excellent job, even the gentleman that was suspect of DWI was a gentleman.
The business owners, in the absence of warrant or subpoena, or consent of the video system owners, have sole right to the contents of the system. A person,merely suspected of impaired driving, does not rise to the need for law enforcement to demand to see said content immediately. Smells like a fishing trip. Officer despite his demeanor does not have the right to demand access. Business co -owner behavior was over the top but his behavior does not negate his right to deny the search of his camera system. I would be proud to support a politician, such as the mayor, who stands on principle. The hullabaloo is reminiscent of student council in high school behavior and looks like sour grapes by the loser of an election. THERE IS PLENTY OF WORK TO BE DONE TO FIX THIS SMALL CITY WITHOUT THESE CONSTANT DISTRACTIONS. Get to work!!
That’s not how it works when you have a liquor license. Nice try though.
I agree on general with the above statement and respect the business owners right to privacy. However what is the point of the camera system if not to aid in an investigation of a crime? The mayor is a business owner in this small town and needa to build and maintain a good working relationship with local law enforcement because inevitably due to the nature of the business (selling alcohol) will require their assistance. In addition his behavoir toward law enforcement is very unbecoming of a public servant considering he is mayor of this community and also serves the needs of law enforcement and their families as well. I find the audacity of the mayor to be remarkable considering he is currently under investogation for stealing over 10k from local taxpayers and now he is planning to run for reelection? It’s absurd! He signed the papers for the health insurance and likely used it. It was his reaponsibility to ask questions about the paperwork before signing it. Now he’s saying he didn’t want it? Very childish behavoir.
The Mayor needs to go!
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