Wesley Bell

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Wesley Bell
Wesley J. Bell
St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley J. Bell
Prosecuting Attorney of St. Louis County
Assumed office
January 1, 2019
Preceded byBob McCulloch
Personal details
Born (1974-11-05) November 5, 1974 (age 48)[1][2]
St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic

Wesley Bell (born November 5, 1974) is an American attorney, former public defender, former municipal prosecutor and judge, former municipal prosecutor and former city council member for Ferguson, Missouri. Currently, Bell holds the office of Prosecuting Attorney for St. Louis County, Missouri.[3] In a major upset, he soundly defeated long-time yet controversial county prosecutor Bob McCulloch in the August 2018 Democratic primary election.[1] Bell became the first black county prosecuting attorney in St. Louis County history when he took office in January 2019.[4]

Early life[edit]

Bell was raised in northern St. Louis County, Missouri. He is the son of a police officer father and civil servant mother. Bell is a graduate of Hazelwood East High School, Lindenwood University, and University of Missouri School of Law.[5]


After graduating from law school, Bell worked as a St. Louis County public defender. He later joined the faculty of Florissant Valley Community College as a professor in the criminology department. Additionally, he also was appointed to be a municipal court judge in Velda City and municipal prosecutor in Riverview. While working as a municipal judge in Velda City, Bell was sued by Arch City Defenders, a local nonprofit, for running an illegal bail system.[6] In 2015 during the Ferguson Protests he was elected to the city council with strong support from some activists. During his time on the council he helped to implement the consent decree to reform the city's criminal justice system through both police and court reform.[7]

Running for the county prosecutor race on a platform of community based policing, assigning special prosecutors in homicides by police, pledging to never seek the death penalty, reforming cash bail/bond and never using it for low-level offenses, expanding diversion programs and the county's drug courts, and promoting equitable due process, he received significant support from local and national activists and advocacy groups.[1][4][8]


In December 2018, a month before Bell took office, the St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Office attorneys and investigators voted to join the St. Louis Police Officers Association (SLPOA) a chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police which represents police officers in a neighboring jurisdiction.[9] This decision elicited immediate criticism,[10][11] including accusations of a conflict of interest. Concerns were raised both locally[12] and nationally,[13] and by the Ethical Society of Police (ESOP), which is composed of, predominantly black, active and retired law enforcement officers.[14] However, at least some of the employees’ concerns seemed to be justified after Bell terminated three veteran prosecutors within hours of beginning his term.[15] These terminated employees were later paid $170,000 by St. Louis County to settle their wrongful termination claims.[16]

County prosecutor[edit]

Bell Plan[edit]

On January 8, 2019, Bell released details of his "Bell Plan". This plan prioritized working to reduce the St. Louis County jail population to give more resources to combating violent crime.

Marijuana decriminalization[edit]

In his first hours in office, Bell ordered his assistant prosecutors not to prosecute marijuana cases under 100 grams without evidence of distribution of the drug. However, he will still prosecute marijuana cases where the person possessing the marijuana is armed with a weapon. They will also not seek warrants on cases which solely involve the possession of marijuana.[17]

Child support[edit]

Additionally, during his first days in office Bell elected to stop prosecuting criminal child support cases.[18] This led to concerns that he was allowing non-supporting parents to evade their financial obligations to their children.[19] Bell responded that he was trying to ensure that people would not face criminal charges for being unable to pay and that such charges made it harder for debtors to pay their child support.[18] Bell also stated that he was bringing St. Louis County into line with the rest of the State of Missouri. At the same time it emerged that Tim Swope, Bell's Director of Operations, owed nearly $19,000.00 in back child support himself.[18]

Death penalty[edit]

Bell campaigned on a platform of opposition to the death penalty. In November 2018, prior to Bell taking office, Thomas Bruce, a resident of Jefferson County, Missouri, allegedly entered Catholic Supply, a religious goods store in west St. Louis County and ordered three women there to perform deviant sexual acts on him. According to the charges, when one of the women refused to do so he shot her in the head, killing her.[20] There was a major public outcry for Bell seek the death penalty for Bruce, but Bell refused, keeping his campaign promise.[21] Former St. Louis police chief Tim Fitch has urged Bell to turn the case over to federal prosecutors so that they can seek the death penalty. However, the family of the victim supported Bell's decision not to seek the death penalty.[22]

Officer-involved shootings[edit]

In April 2019, police with the city of Ladue, a St. Louis municipality, were called to a disturbance at a local grocery store.[23] The disturbance allegedly involved a woman shoplifting and fighting with store employees.[24] The Ladue police officer, a white female, confronted the alleged shoplifter, a black female, and the woman fought with the officer and ran from her.[23] The police officer then shot her, claiming she intended to use her taser instead.[24] Bell, reversing the trend over the past several years, charged the police officer with felony assault in the second degree.[23]

However, in another case in August 2019, at the St. Louis Galleria Mall, a man named Terry Tillman was shot and killed after being chased by a police officer.[25] According to police, Tillman was carrying a pistol with an extended magazine inside the mall, a no-gun zone. Police also said that a shopper alerted a police officer who went to stop Tillman. When approached, Tillman took off and the officer chased him. During this chase several other police officers joined the pursuit which took Tillman and officers onto an adjacent parking lot. At some point Tillman was shot after police said he allegedly made a threatening movement in their direction.[26] However, activists in St. Louis later claimed the police planted the gun on Tillman after shooting him and that shooting Tillman was an extreme overreaction on the part of police.[27] Bell was one of the first people at the scene and promised a transparent investigation.[25] However, after nearly a year and a half, in December 2020, Bell announced he would not charge the officer.[28] Bell blamed the delay on being unable to obtain video due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, a police report released by Bell's office indicated that Bell's office had the video on November 29, 2019.[29]


Reopening the Michael Brown shooting case[edit]

After his win against incumbent Bob McCulloch, many of his supporters, including Howard University law professor Justin Hansford, called on Bell to reopen the investigation into the death of Michael Brown.[30] While Bell initially promised to address the issue before his inauguration, it took him nearly 18 months to do so.[31] Bell ultimately found, like his predecessor Bob McCulloch and the Obama DOJ, that there was no probable cause to charge Darren Wilson with murder or manslaughter.[32] This decision was met with anger from his supporters and Michael Brown's family who accused Bell of conducting an incomplete investigation.[33] The St. Louis Post Dispatch, a local paper of record, was also critical of Bell for his apparent disappointment, expressed at a press conference, in not being able to indict Wilson.[34]

Sex discrimination lawsuit[edit]

On October 29, 2020, one of Bell's assistant prosecutors filed a lawsuit under Missouri's Human Rights Act claiming that Bell had fired her and forced out five other female attorneys in favor of male employees. The lawsuit further alleged that Bell had created a hostile work environment for female attorneys at the office. Bell responded by claiming that the prosecutor's attorney was irresponsibly and unethically attempting to litigate his case in the media.[35]

Allegations of politically-motivated prosecutions[edit]

In October 2019, Bell charged Dawan Ferguson with two counts of statutory rape and two counts of statutory sodomy and child molestation. The allegations stem from the disappearance of Ferguson's son Christian in 2003.[36] Ferguson's public defender filed a motion to dismiss the case, arguing that the case was politically-motivated. She cited Ferguson's ex-wife working for Bell's campaign for prosecutor and donating money to Bell as proof of this assertion.[37]

In July 2022, Dawan Ferguson was convicted of the murder charges for his son.[38]

Use of government resources[edit]

Bell has also been criticized for his use of government resources while in office. In June 2019, KSDK, a local news outlet, reported that Bell had amassed nearly $800 in parking tickets for parking in no-parking zones and in front of fire hydrants outside of his office, despite the fact that he was provided with a parking space.[39] Bell's chief of staff, Sam Alton, responded that it was "too tedious" to cross the street to the parking garage.[40] Bell later paid off the parking tickets using his own money.[40]

In August 2019, it emerged that Bell had hired a former campaign worker as a paid intern with the office. In that position she earned more than many of the career staff employees and legal interns. While Bell refused to be interviewed about the subject, his office responded that she was responsible for community engagement projects. The intern was also observed accompanying Bell to many social and community events.[41]

In October 2019, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch conducted an investigation into Bell's expenditures during the first ten months in office. The investigation uncovered that Bell had spent over $30,000 in government funds on travel and food during his first ten months in office. This included an $816 dinner at an expensive Miami steakhouse and a $300 meal at a Lake of the Ozarks steakhouse. In addition to food and travel, the Post-Dispatch determined that Bell had spent over $8,000 of taxpayer dollars on new office furniture, blinds, and an espresso machine for his office.[42] Furthermore, the Post-Dispatch also reported on Bell's efforts to hide details of his spending, such as omitting thousands of dollars of charges from requested records, charging the Post to provide requested documents, reimbursing expenditures only after records requests for those expenditures were made, and being nonresponsive to sunshine requests. This was criticized as inconsistent with Bell's campaign promises to be a transparent administration.[43] Under pressure from his supporters, Bell ultimately apologized for this scandal and vowed to spend taxpayer money more appropriately in the future.[44][45]


  1. ^ a b c Ferner, Matt (August 7, 2018). "St. Louis Voters Oust Prosecutor Who Didn't Bring Charges In Cop Killing Of Michael Brown". HuffPost. Retrieved August 28, 2018.
  2. ^ @wesleybell4stl (November 5, 2018). "Today is Wesley's birthday! 🎉🎈🎂 He needs your helping to make his birthday wish come true. Watch to hear how. @clairecmc @McCaskill4MO @nicolergalloway @cortvo" (Tweet). Retrieved February 2, 2023 – via Twitter.
  3. ^ Jordan, Sandra (November 6, 2018). "Victory night for Wesley Bell, former Ferguson councilman makes history as first black St. Louis County Prosecutor". St. Louis American.
  4. ^ a b Levitz, Eric (August 8, 2018). "Progressive Reformer Ousts St. Louis Prosecutor Who Didn't Charge Cop in Michael Brown Case". The Daily Intelligencer. New York. Retrieved August 28, 2018.
  5. ^ Allen, Ron; Noble Jones, Brittany (August 10, 2018). "Game changer: Wesley Bell ousts Bob McCulloch for prosecutor in St. Louis County". NBC News. Retrieved August 28, 2018.
  6. ^ Reilly, Ryan J.; Stewart, Mariah (April 6, 2015). "Judge In Tiny City Facing Lawsuit Over Its 'Illegal' Bail System Is Running For Ferguson City Council". HuffPost. Retrieved September 3, 2020.
  7. ^ "Vote Wesley Bell". (Wesley Bell campaign website). Friends of Wesley Bell. 2018. Retrieved August 28, 2018.
  8. ^ Stockman, Farah (August 8, 2018). "In Ferguson, a New Prosecutor 'Gives Us Hope' 4 Years After Shooting". The New York Times. Retrieved August 18, 2018.
  9. ^ Salter, Jim (December 18, 2018). "Activists concerned by prosecutors joining police union". Associated Press News.
  10. ^ Jaco, Charles (December 19, 2018). "Staff prosecutors joining police union sends Wesley Bell a message". St. Louis American.
  11. ^ Jones, Tishaura O. (December 17, 2018). "Fear of black leadership in St. Louis". St. Louis American.
  12. ^ Messenger, Tony (December 16, 2018). "Messenger: St. Louis County prosecutors seek to join police union before Wesley Bell takes over". St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
  13. ^ Balko, Radley (December 17, 2018). "A reformer won the election for St. Louis County DA. But his future subordinates might join the police union". The Washington Post.
  14. ^ Lacy, Akela (December 20, 2018). "Before Criminal Justice Reformer Is Even Sworn In, St. Louis Prosecutors Have Joined a Police Union". The Intercept. Retrieved December 21, 2018.
  15. ^ "Wesley Bell, new St. Louis County prosecutor, fires some staff". KMOV.com. Associated Press. Retrieved February 3, 2020.
  16. ^ Currier, Joel. "Third prosecutor forced out by Wesley Bell gets $70,000 settlement with St. Louis County". stltoday.com. Retrieved February 3, 2020.
  17. ^ Wicentowski, Danny (January 14, 2019). "St. Louis County will stop prosecuting marijuana possession under 100 grams". The Riverfront Times. Retrieved February 22, 2020.
  18. ^ a b c Long, Jacob (January 4, 2019). "Top staffer for Wesley Bell owes ex-wife thousands in back due child support". KSDK.
  19. ^ Choat, Brad (January 6, 2019). "New St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell Urging Patience". KMOX Radio. KMOX. Retrieved January 7, 2020.
  20. ^ Byers, Christine; Benchaabane, Nassim; Hollinshed, Denise; Holleman, Joe (November 22, 2018). "Jefferson County man charged with murder, sex crimes in Catholic Supply store attack". St. Louis Post Dispatch.
  21. ^ Long, Jacob; Cole, Ashley. "Wesley Bell won't seek death penalty in Catholic Supply murder". KSDK. Retrieved February 8, 2020.
  22. ^ Byers, Christine (November 28, 2018). "Death penalty should be on the table for Catholic Supply killer, former police chief says". The St. Louis Post Dispatch. Retrieved February 22, 2020.
  23. ^ a b c Rivas, Rebecca (May 1, 2019). "Bell charges cop in shooting at Ladue Schnucks". The St. Louis American. Retrieved February 22, 2020.
  24. ^ a b Byers, Christine; Currier, Joel (May 2, 2019). "Ladue officer charged with assault in 'reckless' shooting of shoplifting suspect at Schnucks". The St. Louis Post Dispatch. Retrieved February 22, 2020.
  25. ^ a b Schrappen, Colleen (August 31, 2019). "Police fatally shoot man near St. Louis Galleria mall". The St. Louis Post Dispatch. Retrieved February 22, 2020.
  26. ^ Benchaabane, Nassim; Currier, Joel (September 4, 2019). "Man shot near Galleria had raised his gun toward officer, police say". The St. Louis Post Dispatch. Retrieved February 22, 2020.
  27. ^ Rivas, Rebecca (November 25, 2019). "Citizen video seems to show police planting gun". The St. Louis American. Retrieved February 22, 2020.
  28. ^ American, Dana Rieck of the St Louis. "Officer not charged in fatal Galleria shooting, victim's family requests video not be released". St. Louis American. Retrieved December 10, 2020.
  29. ^ Tillman Police Report Redacted (December 9, 2020). "Tillman Police Report Redacted". Retrieved December 9, 2020.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  30. ^ Hansford, Justin (August 10, 2018). "Reopen the Michael Brown investigation". The Washington Post. Retrieved February 22, 2020.
  31. ^ Patrick, Robert (August 10, 2018). "Wesley Bell will soon address calls for reinvestigation of Michael Brown's death, his spokeswoman says. Bell ultimately decided not to file any charges even though eye witness testimony from third parties were in agreement that Brown had his hands in the air and was not a threat when he was murdered". The St. Louis Post Dispatch. Retrieved February 22, 2020.
  32. ^ Currier, Joel. "St. Louis County prosecutor reopened Michael Brown shooting case but won't charge Darren Wilson". STLtoday.com. Retrieved August 20, 2020.
  33. ^ American, Chris King of the St Louis. "Lezley McSpadden says Wesley Bell did not do a 'proper investigation'". St. Louis American. Retrieved August 20, 2020.
  34. ^ The Editorial Board. "Editorial: New investigation, same disappointing result for Michael Brown's family". STLtoday.com. Retrieved August 20, 2020.
  35. ^ Currier, Joel. "Former prosecutor accuses Wesley Bell of racial, gender and age discrimination". STLtoday.com. Retrieved October 30, 2020.
  36. ^ Currier, Joel (October 24, 2019). "St. Louis County prosecutors file sex charges against man accused of killing disabled son in 2003". The St. Louis Post Dispatch. Retrieved February 22, 2020.
  37. ^ Currier, Joel (October 23, 2019). "St. Louis County man accused of killing disabled son in 2003 stays in jail; prosecutors plan more charges". The St. Louis Post Dispatch. Retrieved February 22, 2020.
  38. ^ Byers, Christine (July 2022). "Dawan Ferguson convicted of Christian Ferguson's death". 5 On Your Side. Retrieved February 2, 2023.
  39. ^ Long, Jacob (July 15, 2019). "Using taxpayer-funded SUV, Wesley Bell racks up hundreds of dollars in unpaid parking tickets". KSDK. Retrieved February 22, 2020.
  40. ^ a b Long, Jacob (August 7, 2019). "Wesley Bell surrenders fight to avoid paying hundreds of dollars in parking tickets on government-funded SUV". KSDK. Retrieved February 22, 2020.
  41. ^ Trager, Lauren (August 27, 2019). "Whistleblower says controversial hire in STL Co. Prosecutor's Office is 'slap in the face to the career professionals'". KMOV. Retrieved February 22, 2020.
  42. ^ Currier, Joel (October 28, 2019). "Lobster, ribeye: Prosecutor Wesley Bell's office has charged $30,000 in meals, travel to St. Louis County credit cards". The St. Louis Post Dispatch. Retrieved February 22, 2020.
  43. ^ The Post Dispatch Editorial Board (October 27, 2019). "Editorial: Bell's lavish meals, travel aren't a good fit for a self-proclaimed reformer". The St Louis Post Dispatch. Retrieved February 22, 2020.
  44. ^ The St. Louis American Editorial Board (October 31, 2019). "Wesley Bell needs to clean up the mess he made". The St. Louis American. Retrieved February 22, 2020.
  45. ^ Bell, Wesley (November 5, 2019). "I cannot allow my missteps to undermine our mission". The St. Louis American. Retrieved February 22, 2020.

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