Police Push Back as Circuit Attorney Pursues Cases Against St. Louis Cops


Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards defends the police department. - DOYLE MURPHY
  • Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards defends the police department.

In the past five days, two St. Louis cops have been charged with felonies in an off-duty bar shooting and another was killed by a fellow officer who, according to the criminal complaint, fired a single round into her chest during bizarre game of Russian Roulette.

The ugly incidents have led to sniping between a police department under fire — and the prosecutors pursuing cases against its officers.

St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner wrote a letter Monday to police Chief John Hayden and Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards, chastising the police department for "obstructionist" tactics during prosecutors' investigation into the death of Officer Katlyn Alix.

The 24-year-old was shot to death by Officer Nathaniel Hendren early Thursday morning while they took turns pulling the trigger on a revolver loaded with a single bullet, authorities say. Hendren and his partner, who was also at the apartment, were on duty at the time.

Gardner alleges that the police department blocked prosecutors' efforts to get blood samples from Hendren and his partner, even though "there was probable cause at the scene that drugs or alcohol may be a contributing factor in a potential crime."

Also on Monday, Gardner's prosecutors filed charges against officers William Olsten and Joseph Schmitt in an April 2018 shooting. The two are accused of attacking a 22-year-old in the parking of a south city bar where they were drinking off duty with two other cops. Olsten climbed into the back of the man's van, and later slammed him to the pavement, causing the man's gun to fire and hit Olsten, prosecutors say. Schmitt then shot the man multiple times, according to the charges.

In a statement about the bar shooting, Gardner wrote that police investigated the incident and pursued charges against the 22-year-old. But prosecutors refused to file them. Instead, Circuit Attorney's investigators conducted their own probe, which led to assault charges against the officers.

At a news conference this afternoon, Edwards defended the department. He denied police have done anything to interfere with the investigations.

"To suggest any officer is engaged in any obstruction of justice is ludicrous," he told reporters.

Processing the crime scene at Hendren's apartment is the responsibility of police, not prosecutors, he said. And he insisted they had cooperated as much as possible with the Circuit Attorney's Office.

Susan Ryan, spokeswoman for the Circuit Attorney, says that while it's true processing the scene is done by police, it's common for prosecutors to ask for specific evidence to be collected.

Gardner sent two investigators and a prosecutor to Hendren's apartment, which is in the Carondelet neighborhood. She says when they pushed for a blood draw and got a search warrant, police commanders acted like they would help, but later told them only that a "sample" had been taken. Pushed to explain, police told the Circuit Attorney's investigators a breathalyzer and urine tests were done under the cover of Garrity protections, a process that could potentially shield the results from prosecutors by protecting the officers' rights against incriminating themselves. There was apparently no blood test.

Nathaniel Hendren, shown in his booking mug. - COURTESY OF SLMPD
  • Nathaniel Hendren, shown in his booking mug.

"Taking these tests under the cover of Garrity appears as an obstructionist tact to prevent us from understanding the state of the officers during the commission of this alleged crime," Gardner wrote in her letter to police brass. "We have the expectation that those test results will be turned over to our office immediately as part of the ongoing investigation."

Edwards promised reporters the test results would be made public as the court case against officer Hendren continues, but when asked how that might happen given the Garrity protections, he offered no specifics.

"I just think that you will get it," he said. "I absolutely think you will get it. I want you to have it."

An attorney for Hendren, Talmage Newton IV, insists allegations about drugs are "categorically false" and says Gardner's attempts to get the tests would violate his client's constitutional rights. Her letter shows she ignored the work of "seasoned professionals on the scene, who are experienced and entrusted with investigations, when she filed these uniformed and unsustainable charges," Newton writes in a news release.

But even while Edwards pushes back on Gardner's criticism of the investigation, police have not challenged the charges.

As for the charges in the Bomber O'Brien's shooting, Edwards said police thought it was important to investigate the shooting. The department had the Force Investigation Unit — the unit that handles police-involved shootings — look into it. They then turned over the results to prosecutors.

Ryan says that's true, but that police never asked for charges against the officers involved. And the case the police gave them — seeking charges against the 22-year-old shot by one officer — was short on evidence.

"We began our own parallel investigation when police brought the original charges over and we believed there was insufficient evidence," Ryan said in an email.

That investigation led to the charges that were filed Monday against Olsten and Schmitt. Headlines in the two cases follow last week's revelations that an undercover officer told Internal Affairs investigators that uniformed officers beat him "like Rodney King" in 2017 during police protests. Four officers have been indicted on federal charges in that case.

Edwards says the cluster of cases, spanning years of activity, wrongly portrays a problem department.

"The vast majority of the officers, they do it right," he said. "And they do a decent job."

Kim Gardner Letter by on Scribd

We welcome tips and feedback. Email the author at [email protected] or follow on Twitter at @DoyleMurphy.

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