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Fox Files – Police officers punished for protecting citizens

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ST. LOUIS (KTVI) – Our story involves not only police sergeants who went above and beyond to protect and serve, but also their commanders, who tried to make sure those sergeants got paid for their work. It involves a financial punishment reportedly popping up because of local control and a questionable city rule.

“I was being punished for being shot,” said Sgt. Tom Lake.

And Sgt. Lake said he’s not the only officer to be “punished” for doing his job.

St. Louis administrators have backed off on trying to claw back more than $2,000 from Sgt. Lake’s paycheck, but Lake said there are still others paying the price for doing their jobs.

“I was really happy there were a lot of policemen and supervisors who came in off-duty to help do a search for the suspect that shot me,” Lake said.

Yet, he said every responding sergeant risked losing pay.

“If there was a sergeant that was involved in that shooting, that sergeant would have been placed on administrative leave and he would have forfeited his overtime for shooting and killing the suspect that shot me,” Lake said.

Does Lake believe his involvement in finding a fugitive ultimately cost him?

Lake answered, “Yes.”

A couple grand in pay, perhaps?

“Yeah,” he said.

Then there’s the case of Sgt. Michael Pratt, who ran so fast after an armed robber he damaged leg tendons. Pratt reportedly lost out on at least $2,000 because of it.

Here’s why – St. Louis police sergeants are paid in a 28-day period. They must first donate 11 hours free before qualifying for overtime. A sergeant could be on track for overtime until the last week, but lose it all if he or she gets hurt.

“If you’re injured in the line of duty, if you’re doing your job, you shouldn’t be penalized for it,” said St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson. “That’s really what happened here.”

Chief Dotson said it’s the city rule.

“As we transition from state control to local control, we’re still having issues we work through,” he said. “So there’s a city rule that says only time worked counts towards overtime.”

This issue came to light after Sgt. Lake got shot November 20. Since Lake was scheduled to work the rest of that pay period, supervisors entered him into the system as such. However, city rules required him to be taken off payroll. That led to the emails from city bean counters demanding thousands back from Lake while he was recovering from two bullets to the head.

Meanwhile, Lake’s commanders are being investigated by internal affairs just for the computer error.

The officers were not apparently embezzling money or trying to give Lake cash on the side. Those officers felt they were doing what they felt was right.

“Absolutely; I think they were trying to do what they thought was right,” Chief Dotson said.

“Unfortunately, when we’re dealing with taxpayer money, when we’re dealing with city dollars, what you think is right and what is right might not always be the same thing.”

Dotson said his hands are tied by city rules that don’t match the compassion and true nature we should be showing the men and women who protect us. He thinks the city needs to change the rule.

Also, it should be noted that the overtime rule only applies to sergeants, not police officers. Sgt. Lake said he took the promotion, knowing it would hurt him financially, because he wants to lead and he wants to be the mentor to teach young officers how to do the right thing.