Tags: St. Louis County News, Sunset Hills News
August 06, 2014 - The St. Louis County Police Department is in the final stages of its investigation into whether Sunset Hills Mayor Mark Furrer hit a bicyclist in an intentional hit-and-run last week, a police spokesman said.
Bicyclists rally at Sunset Hills City Hall Saturday following an alleged hit-and-run between a bicyclist and the mayor. Photo by Mike Anthony.
"I just spoke with the detectives. They are in the final stages of their investigation," Police Officer Brian Schellman told the Call Friday afternoon. "We are hoping to be completed by the middle of next week."
Amid questions over whether the Sunset Hills Police Department could conduct an unbiased investigation into the city's mayor, Police Chief William LaGrand asked the county to take over the investigation July 31. No charges have yet been filed or tickets issued in the incident.
"The mayor of Sunset Hills told me to get off his roads, then ran me over," Murdick, an electrician and seasoned competitive cyclist, wrote on Facebook the night of the July 29 incident, in a post that went viral among bicycling circles nationwide.
Furrer countered that Murdick was the instigator and fell after he grabbed onto the mayor's convertible of his own volition, after Furrer drove next to him and told him not to run a stop sign. The fall tore Murdick's Achilles tendon.
Look for complete coverage in the Aug. 14 print edition of the Call. Our Aug. 7 print story is below:
Sunset Hills made national — and even international — news last week when the allegation that Mayor Mark Furrer hit a bicyclist with his red Mercedes convertible after reportedly telling the cyclist to "get off his roads" went viral.
Although the Sunset Hills Police Department voluntarily turned over the investigation of the July 29 incident to the St. Louis County Police Department two days later, bicyclists nationwide scrutinized the local force's handling of the case, poring over news accounts of the story and, before Furrer took it down, mining the mayor's Facebook page for evidence.
"The perception is that the police are more interested in protecting the mayor than protecting the community — because had it been you, or me, or anybody other than the mayor driving that car, they would have been arrested on the spot and they would have been given a field sobriety test, and neither of those things happened," Sunset Hills Triathlon sponsor and triathlon store owner Chip Self told the Call.
Sunset Hills Mayor Mark Furrer
Concerned about Fenton competitive cyclist Randy Murdick's alleged treatment and about their own safety on Sunset Hills roads, hundreds of athletes associated with the St. Louis Triathlon Club who are set to compete in the Aug. 24 Sunset Hills Triathlon threatened to boycott the event because they did not feel safe on the roads or feel they would be given a "fair shake" if someone hit them, Self said.
Cyclists organized a group ride Saturday morning through the streets of Sunset Hills that ended at a City Hall rally attended by nearly 200 cyclists and most of the Sunset Hills Board of Aldermen.
The city's police are directly supervised by the aldermen, not the mayor. Although Police Chief William LaGrand said he had full faith in his officers to conduct an unbiased investigation, he acknowledged that the situation gave the appearance of a conflict of interest when he announced July 31 he was turning over the investigation.
Murdick, 47, a disabled veteran and defending state mountain-biking champion, disputed Furrer's contention that he grabbed onto the convertible. He also disputed that city police officers treated the mayor the way they would any other citizen.
The Sunset Hills Police never interviewed Murdick at the scene or in the 48 hours they conducted the investigation afterward, and they let Furrer, 60, go after roughly 15 minutes — while Murdick and the eyewitnesses stayed at the scene for close to 90 minutes, the cyclist said.
"There were four or five cop cars there — there were cops everywhere — and they just let (Furrer) drive away," Murdick told the Call minutes before he got the call that the county police were taking over. "They didn't ask (me) where the accident happened, nothing ... The police to this second don't know. They never asked."
Asked directly if Sunset Hills officers took a statement from Murdick at the scene, LaGrand told the Call, "The county police have that now — I'm not going to replay what has happened."
The police took a written statement from Furrer at the scene, and the mayor had no further contact with the Police Department after that, Furrer's attorney, Chuck Billings, told the Call.
Sunset Hills authorities found no evidence on the convertible of any contact with a bicycle, Furrer told the Call. Murdick said that is because the car hit his leg, not the $13,000 training bicycle. The bike sustained $10,000 damage.
By Murdick's account, he did not know at the time of the incident that the convertible driver was the mayor, and he later went to the Police Department with his attorney Michelle Funkenbusch to check why charges had not been brought, only to discover that the driver was the city's mayor.
County now investigating
At Saturday's rally, Funkenbusch noted that she was impressed with the investigation conducted by the county Police Department, which sent eight detectives to Old Gravois Road to investigate.
"These are the guys who usually investigate homicides," she told a crowd that included all the city's aldermen except Ward 3 Alderman Kurt Krueger, who was out of town. "They brought out their finest in ties to investigate this to make sure they got the statements right, and I trust that they will do a fine job. And I believe they will tell you that the evidence supports the cyclist's version of the facts in this case."
The detective in charge of the case is Matthew Wilson of the Crimes Against Persons Unit, Funkenbusch told the Call.
The unit investigates all incidents that involve crimes where people are harmed, from armed robberies to homicides.
County police have no time line on when their investigation will be complete.
When it is, Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch's office will make a decision whether to charge Furrer, not county police, said police spokesman Brian Schellman.
City plans no statement
At the press conference announcing the county was taking over the case, LaGrand said that Furrer did not receive special treatment and that a field sobriety test would have only been conducted if the mayor had shown evidence of being intoxicated.
Since Furrer returned to the scene within a few minutes, he did not leave the scene of an accident, LaGrand noted.
Asked by the Call after the press conference if he planned to investigate his force's response to the incident, LaGrand asked if he was being recorded.
"Don't record me," he said.
When the Call responded that it was a press conference, LaGrand replied, "Fine, then. We're done."
City Attorney Robert E. Jones told the Call that beyond the press conference, no statement would be issued on the incident.
The Sunset Hills force has 26 police officers, including a third detective added by the city last year at LaGrand's request. Initially, police officers told Murdick and the press that a police report on the incident would take up to a week to provide — Furrer told the Call that the delay was apparently because two of the department's three detectives were out of town.
Furrer was elected mayor in April as a last-minute write-in candidate, defeating former Mayor Bill Nolan with the help of a strong social media presence, including a Facebook page that he deleted last week in the wake of scorn and death threats directed toward him from people around the world.
If Furrer were to be charged and convicted of a felony, he would have to forfeit his office under a Missouri statute that prohibits felons from serving in elected office. Unlike Crestwood, which prohibits a convicted felon from holding elected office in its city Charter, Sunset Hills has no ordinance that mandates an elected official cannot be convicted of certain crimes, Jones said.
Furrer was open with his story midweek, posing for media outlets with his 1991 Mercedes convertible at City Hall.
"Even though everybody tells me I shouldn't talk to the media, and I'm just naïve, I just hate it when a politician runs and hides," Furrer told the Call. "I'm not going to not talk."
Although Furrer talked to the Call right after the incident, by the end of the week his attorney was answering questions on his behalf, on Billings' advice.
To view more photos from Saturday's rally at City Hall, visit http://www.callnewspapers.com/1galleryembedbody.lasso?-token.galnumeric=22880.112112