Police Sgt. “punished” by his own department for getting shot

(KPLR) - Fox 2 has obtained police emails revealing an unusual demand after a St. Louis Police officer was shot.

The e-mails reveal a City demand for Sgt. Tom Lake to repay thousands of dollars after Lake was shot and could not work the holidays.

Sgt. Lake has been all over the news since November.  He was shot twice in the face on Hampton Avenue as he sat beneath a streetlight in his patrol SUV.  Miraculously, the two bullets missed vital organs.  One lodged near his cheek.  He apparently swallowed the other as it fell from his sinus.

It was the Sunday before Thanksgiving.  Three days later, Lake stunned a large crowd by appearing at the police and firefighters Guns & Hoses fundraiser.

Since the shooting, Lake has been off work to recover.

He told me, “I was being punished for being shot.”

Lake only agree to talk after the Fox Files uncovered dozens of emails between the St. Louis Police Department and Sgt. Lake.  They begin the day after Christmas.  Finance employees tell Lake there's a problem with his November overtime.  “My heart sank,” Lake remembered.

One email described an “overpayment of $2,029.35.”  The finance employee continued, “I would like to begin the process of repayment.”  And, “I plan on making a negative adjustment to your pay.”

Sgt. Lake told me, “I had worked selflessly through that 28 day period, trying to provide a better life to my family and I worked an obscene amount of time. I was forfeiting Christmas stuff with my children, to go see Santa, to do different things.  I forfeited my Halloween.”

According to the emails, two officers intervened on Lake's behalf.  Captain Michael Deeba asked the finance department to leave him alone for his own health.  Major Dan Howard said the demand for repayment was 'wrong.'

It does not stop the demands, which grew stronger January 2nd because the budget director reportedly denied a waiver to let it go.

Lake's attorney John Bouhasin explained that the city cannot, legally, let it go.  He said, “They're following the letter of the law as they know it.  The problem with the letter of the law is it`s very impersonal and it does not take into account people getting seriously injured in the line of duty.”

Before getting overtime, St. Louis Police rules require sergeants to work 11 hours for free in a 28 day pay period.  Sgt. Lake was on track to donate those hours and get overtime, until he was shot November 20th.  He could no longer work five of the last six days he was scheduled.

I asked Police Chief Sam Dotson, “Technically, if you`re shot on duty and you`re in the hospital the next day, aren`t you still working?”

Dotson answered, “Well you are and this is, I would say a growing problem from local control and so as we transition from state control to local control we`re still having issues we work through.”

Chief Dotson says he's worked it out, Lake does not have to pay back the $2,000 dollars.  He says he was also upset when he saw the emails, but points out the accountants were following city rules.  Dotson explained, “I don't think they saw the human side.  I don`t think they realized that Tom Lake was the officer that was shot.  But I think the conversation has to be bigger too, that we have processes in place, whether it`s the police department or the city.  There are processed in place to make sure the rules are followed, to make sure the money goes to where it`s supposed to.”

That's where this story takes another twist.  We've learned of other sergeants, who also reportedly lost out on thousands of dollars under similar circumstances.  And they are not reportedly getting the same waiver as Sgt. Lake.  Plus the two commanders who intervened on Lake's behalf are now subject to internal affairs investigations for what’s been described by some as a clerical error.  Tune into the Fox Files Wednesday night at ten.