Sheriff for the City of St. Louis says judiciary is blocking his ability to hire staff

ST. LOUIS (KTVI) - There's a new sheriff in town, but he's not fond of some rules when it comes to hiring his new staff; rules which City of St. Louis Sheriff Vernon Betts said are preventing him from hiring employees whom he can trust.

"There are several officers that left that we wanted to replace, but we haven't been able to replace them because there’s this physical aptitude test that the judges are insisting that we take them through now," Betts explained.

It's a test that he said none of his employees he is looking to hire have been able to pass.

"These are my executive staff, these are not the people that are going to be handling prisoners or will be out on the streets or anything like that," Betts said. "These are only people who are going to help me make decisions and move the department forward."

According to the 22nd Judicial Circuit Court, judges became concerned several years ago about the physical fitness and agility of some of the deputies. That, in turn, led to a revised Sheriff's Manual to include a provision which requires that all job applicants pass a physical abilities test administered by the St. Louis Police Academy.

"You go over to the police department and you're running around the gym twice, jump over a wall and drag a dummy and all that," Betts said. "It's not a state statute, it's not a city order, it's not a law."

Betts said that he has hired two people since becoming sheriff. That includes attorneys Steve Roberts Sr. and Jolene Taaffe.

Roberts is currently serving as Betts' chief of staff. However, Roberts did not take the agility test and had been working for free until recently.

But why wasn't on payroll to begin with Roberts and how was that legal? Betts said he is aware that it's not legal but, "(Roberts) loves me; he loves me, but I need it."

The office told FOX 2 that Taaffe is on payroll.

So why doesn’t Betts just comply with the rules and hire qualified applicants who could pass the physical test?

"Because we need people that we can trust," Betts said.

According to the office, of the 115, Betts is the only sheriff who has two attorneys on his senior staff.

Roberts said that of the top 30 management positions across the board, there are 14 vacancies that Betts is seeking to fill. That includes positions for sergeants, lieutenants, and captains who have experience in law enforcement or corrections prisoner transfer.

Thom Gross, the public information officer at the 22nd Judicial Circuit Court, said the presiding judge Mike Mullen will not comment on this, but in a statement we were told:

"Missouri Statute 57.530 gives the court the authority to approve sheriff's appointments of deputies and assistants. The court, through its seven-member Personnel Committee, exercised this authority with the previous sheriff and continues to do so. Judges became concerned several years ago about the physical fitness and agility of some of the deputies. Responding to these concerns of the court, the sheriff in 2015 revised the Sheriff's Manual in include a provision requiring that all job applicants pass a physical abilities test administered by the St. Louis Police Academy. The court's personnel committee has declined to approve job prospects —for both the previous sheriff and current sheriff — who have failed to meet the provisions of the Sheriff's Manual. The Personnel Committee agreed that no judicial approval was necessary in the sheriff's hiring of a legal advisor, per Missouri Statute 57.540.
“The court will not comment on matters of specific personnel.”