COURTESY ST. LOUIS POLICE
Matthew EerNisse faces charges more than a year after he shot an unarmed man in the back.
A St. Louis police officer has been charged with first-degree assault for shooting an unarmed man in the back.
Matthew EerNisse, 26, was one of multiple officers who responded after a sergeant spotted a Ford Mustang that had been reported stolen that morning in a carjacking near North Kingshighway Boulevard and Natural Bridge Avenue, police say.
The sergeant chased the Mustang to the 5500 block of Chamberlin Avenue in the West End neighborhood where the driver lost control, crashed and ran off on foot. EerNisse, who is 6'1" and 250 pounds, chased after him. Police say the driver started climbing over the plywood-covered gate of a gangway, and EerNisse started shooting.
The driver made it over the gate and out of sight, but EerNisse continued shooting blindly through the plywood, according to court records.
"The gangway gate next to 5595 Chamberlin was boarded up with plywood, making it impossible for EerNisse to see the gangway while firing at [the driver]," writes Sergeant Joseph Kornberger of the department's Internal Affairs unit.
The driver was shot in the back and collapsed. Shortly after the shooting, police Chief John Hayden told reporters that the driver was reaching for his waistband before he was shot. However, the man never had a gun. Other officers who responded searched him and the area for a weapon but came up empty. He was transported to the hospital.
Kornberger concluded, "Based on the foregoing, I believe the defendant is a danger to the victim and the community."
After EerNisse was charged with assault and armed criminal action on Thursday, police released the following statement:
"After a lengthy and thorough investigation by the Department’s Force Investigation Unit and Internal Affairs Division, it was determined that a warrant application was the appropriate course of action. This process ensures that officer-involved shooting investigations are conducted in a competent manner which promotes transparency, integrity and the professional standards to which we hold ourselves."
Despite conclusions of the Internal Affairs and Force Investigation Unit's investigation, the spokesman for the police union claimed EerNisse was innocent and blamed the prosecution on Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, a frequent target of the union.
“It’s appropriate on Halloween that we have a criminal masquerading as a prosecutor charging yet another innocent police officer," St. Louis Police Officers Association business manager Jeff Roorda told KMOV
. “We’ll let his attorney address the facts of the case, but we are here to stand up for our member, and we believe this is about him wearing a badge, not the facts of the case."
EerNisse had been an officer for about two years at the time of the shooting. He is also a defendant in two ongoing civil lawsuits from his time on the force. He was one of 343 police officers sued
for their actions during police protests in September 2017 after former officer Jason Stockley was acquitted of murder.
EerNisse was also sued after a 2016 crash. He was chasing an unidentified vehicle when he slammed a police Chevy Tahoe into an uninvolved Chrysler 300, badly injuring the driver, according to the federal lawsuit. He did not have his emergency lights or sirens on at the time, the suit says. The city has said EerNisse's actions were protected under the law and it bears no responsibility.
EerNisse is free in the shooting case on a $50,000 cash bond.
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