Linn County roiled by prosecutor’s charge of racism, sexism in Marceline Police Department

Linn County Prosecuting Attorney Shiante McMahon speaks during an April 23 mock trial of the Big Bad Wolf put on for students in local schools. (Photo courtesy Linn County Prosecuting Attorney's Office via Facebook)

(Missouri Independent) – When Linn County Prosecuting Attorney Shiante McMahon saw a photo of one of her campaign shirts defaced with obscene, racist, and sexist writing — and learned it had been on display in the headquarters of the Marceline Police Department — she decided a complaint with the city wouldn’t do any good.

So she posted the photo of the defaced shirt on Facebook, with a message denouncing it as an example of what she says she has dealt with from the department since taking office in 2019. 

Someone using a marker wrote “two-face bitch,” “AOC wannabe,” “f**king bitch” and other messages on the shirt.

“Their hatred, racism, and sexism are a reflection of their own making, how they treat others and a statement they were willing to make public in their very own police department,” McMahon wrote. “If this department encourages this behavior towards my office, how about the people who can’t defend themselves or don’t know how to handle this type of behavior.”

In an interview with The Independent, McMahon said it wasn’t until last week that she saw a photo of the defaced shirt, which she was told hung for months in the police station in the spring of 2020. She says she didn’t take the photo to Marceline Police Chief Robert Donelson or City Manager Richard Hoon because experience taught that would be fruitless.

“I have gone to the city manager and the city council for the past two years to work through issues of credibility of the chief and the department,” McMahon said. “They either don’t respond or sweep it under the rug. I have asked for investigations before and they have never occurred.”

A yellow T-shirt printed with "Vote Shiante McMahon Linn County Prosecutor" is show defaced with almost a dozen obscene, sexist and racist messages, is shown as it appeared when hung in the Marceline, Missouri, Police Department offices.
A T-shirt from Linn County Prosecutor Shiante McMahon’s 2018 campaign, defaced with obscene, sexist and racist writings, was hung for an unknown period at the offices of the Marceline Police Department. (Photo from Facebook post from Linn County Prosecuting Attorney.)

Her public Facebook post got a response this time. 

Hoon, in a statement shared on the city’s Facebook page, acknowledged that the shirt did at one point hang “in the officer’s private office space” at the department. Hoon wrote that it was found in March 2020 and Donelson took immediate action against it.

“This vulgar display is NOT in keeping with the Marceline Police Department’s Mission Statement or the City’s Personnel Policies,” Hoon said. “Chief Donelson took immediate action in the removal of the offensive display.”

The officer who brought it to work no longer works for the department, he wrote.

Marceline, a town of about 2,200, has a police force of eight officers — Donelson, a captain, and six patrol officers. 

In an interview Monday, Hoon said he does not know how long the defaced shirt was on display and neither does Donelson, just that it was removed as soon as the chief became aware of it. He said he is disappointed that McMahon didn’t ask for more information before making her post and his response was needed to assure the public that it wasn’t a current photo.

“I knew I had to address it pretty soon,” Hoon said. “The fact that it happened so long ago did not help the situation.”

In a follow-up post, McMahon addressed Hoon’s statement point-by-point. There are no private offices at the Marceline Police Department, she wrote, just an open squad room with desks. 

The person who took the photo told her it was there for months, she wrote. Donelson and others would laugh about it, that person told her, adding that when Donelson needed to call her, he would announce had to phone “thunder c**t.”

After it had hung in the squad room, she said she was told it was moved to a receptionist’s office, where the photo was taken. She declined to name the person who gave her the photo and described police behavior.

In an interview, she said the statement issued by Hoon isn’t credible.

“I did not believe the timeline of events as stated by the chief,” McMahon said.

Donelson, in an interview, said he never used that phrase about McMahon. And he defended his department from her charges.

“I do not believe that any member of my department is racist,” he said. “This hits home for me because my grandchildren are biracial. No one in this department is racist or sexist.”

He never saw the shirt hanging in the squad room and it was removed as soon as he saw it was in the receptionist’s office, Donelson said.

He declined to say whether the officer responsible for the shirt left the department because of the incident.

The officer was “dealt with according to the progressive discipline policies and I don’t feel I can legally make any more comment than that,” Donelson said. 

McMahon, who was born in Los Angeles, was elected prosecutor in 2018, replacing Tracy Carlson, who held the job for 16 years and is now a member of the Marceline City Council. She came to Missouri to work for the public defender’s office after graduating from law school at Louisiana State University and was assigned to work with defendants in Linn, Livingston and Adair counties from an office in Moberly.

One of her parents is from India and the other is descended from Irish immigrants, she said.

“It is an East meets West heritage,” she said.

She said she moved to Linn County to run for prosecutor before learning that Carlson would not seek another term.

She said she’s tried to address her relationship with the Marceline police by trying to speak with Donelson.

“I would go to the office and more than once, he would go out the back door and wouldn’t come back until I left the building,” she said.

Once, when called, Donelson put her on hold and after 30 minutes, she hung up and called back.

“They said he went to lunch,” she said.

Hoon did not deny that the relationship between McMahon and the Marceline Police Department has been “tense” since she took office.

“It is probably a whole slew of small things that have turned into a big thing,” he said.

McMahon has not been professional in her relationship with his department, Donelson said.

“All I am going to say is that this has been an ongoing thing and I don’t want to lower myself to slinging mud at her or anyone else,” he said. “This has been an ongoing thing and there is a whole lot more to the story than is being perceived.”

McMahon has blocked the department’s telephone calls to her office, he said, and the only communication he has with her is by email.

McMahon said she had no confidence that the incident with the shirt would be addressed and the only recourse was the Facebook post in order to bring the problem before the citizens of the county. 

“To my way of thinking it was going to be swept under the rug again and quite frankly this behavior is the latest of a long line of behaviors,” she said. “In the statement, I castigated the whole department because there was more than one officer besides the chief who knew about it. They knew and didn’t say anything, that is on their conscience, their character.”

Rudi Keller

Rudi Keller covers the state budget, energy, and the legislature. He’s spent 22 of his 30 years in journalism covering Missouri government and politics, most recently as the news editor of the Columbia Daily Tribune. Keller has won awards for spot news and investigative reporting.

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