CLAYTON Mo. – St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell is making significant changes in the prosecutor’s office on his second day in the post. Three assistant prosecutors were fired and escorted from the office by police. One of the dismissed prosecutors presented evidence to a grand jury in the Michael Brown investigation.
Less than 24 hours after taking his oath, speaking of inclusion and the importance of the existing staff in the prosecutor’s office, Fox 2/News 11 confirmed the moves from Bell.
Two of the three prosecutors said they were blindsided when they came into work Wednesday. They were unable to log onto their computers to start their day.
Prosecutor Kathi Alizadeh said Bell gave her a two-page letter explaining the reasons for her termination. She did not discuss the contents of that letter and told reporters she would consult with her own attorney.
Ironically, Alizadeh told Fox 2/News 11 she shook bumped into Bell, shook his hand, and introduced herself minutes before she received a termination letter.
Alizadeh had worked in the county prosecutor's office since May 1998. Recently, she'd been handling the case of accused Catholic Supply Store killer Thomas Bruce.
In November 2014, a grand jury declined to indict a Ferguson police officer for the killing of Brown. The event sparked months of unrest and protests in St. Louis County. Some activists blamed the office of then-county prosecutor Bob McCulloch for the failure to indict.
Bell, a former member of the Ferguson City Council, took the oath of office on Tuesday. He defeated McCulloch, the long-time county prosecutor, in last year’s Democratic primary.
The new county prosecutor promised to reform the cash bail system and expand drug treatment programs in St. Louis County.
Bell said one of his first priorities would be meeting with each member of the prosecutor's office. He held a 15-minute staff meeting in the county's council chambers Wednesday morning, in which he said he made three staff changes.
Attorney Ed McSweeney said he'd been suspended pending a termination hearing. He said the reason for his suspension was an August Facebook post in which he criticized Bell.
Jennifer Coffin was the third assistant prosecutor to be let go. Her termination is also awaiting a hearing. There is a civil service process when it comes to terminations.
There were only four words from Bell to Fox 2/News 11 regarding the moves: “We wish them well."
Sam Alton, a former prosecutor in the City of St. Louis, will serve as Bell’s chief of staff. Former North County Police Cooperative Chief Tim Swope will be director of operations.
The St. Louis Police Officers Association, which handles bargaining for most of the St. Louis County assistant prosecutors, issued the following statement late Wednesday afternoon over the personnel moves:
"While there has not been time to bargain a union contract, Prosecutor Bell should understand that this Union is the authorized representative for these two prosecutors," union president Ed Clark said. "It is regrettable that Mr. Bell did not inform the Association of these suspensions, notify them of their right to have a representative, or provide an explanation to the union after-the-fact.
"The Association is dismayed by the abrupt dismissal of these three veteran prosecutors without warning or apparent justification," Clark continued. "Despite Mr. Bell’s rhetoric about building bridges with career prosecutors, he has apparently decided to suddenly discharge three dedicated public servants in his first hours in office. We call on Mr. Bell to reverse his decision and bring back the three prosecutors and their more than seventy years of combined experience."