St. Louis Prosecutor Accuses Police Of Obstructing Inquiry Into Killing Of Officer
The top prosecutor in St. Louis has accused the city’s Police Department of obstructing the investigation into the killing of an officer whose death last week was originally described as an accident that happened while she was playing Russian roulette with a colleague.
Officer Katlyn Alix was shot in the chest and killed last Thursday by Officer Nathaniel R. Hendren in his home, the police said. Officer Hendren, who was on duty when he shot Officer Alix, was charged last Friday with involuntary manslaughter. Officer Alix, whose funeral was held Wednesday, was off duty at the time of the shooting.
But the investigation into her death has not gone smoothly, according to Kimberly M. Gardner, the St. Louis circuit attorney.
In a letter on Monday to John Hayden, the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department commissioner, and Jimmie Edwards, the public safety director, Ms. Gardner raised concerns with the investigation that included the gathering of evidence and what she said was the Police Department’s rush to label the shooting an accident.
The prosecutor also said she believed there was probable cause that drugs or alcohol might have played a role in the shooting.
A spokeswoman for Ms. Gardner said she would meet with Mr. Edwards and Colonel Hayden on Feb. 7 to discuss her concerns. Representatives for the Police Department and the public safety director did not respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.
But Koran Addo, a spokesman for Mayor Lyda Krewson of St. Louis, rejected Ms. Gardner’s assertion of police misconduct and said that both the prosecutor and the police “have the same goal: to keep St. Louis citizens safe.”
“The Police Department is in no way obstructing this investigation,” Mr. Addo said in an email. “As the Circuit Attorney’s Office continues its investigation into the recent death of Officer Alix, S.L.M.P.D. will cooperate fully by sharing all evidence requested by prosecutors.”
In her letter on Monday, Ms. Gardner said her office had asked the police to take a blood sample from Officer Hendren and his partner, who was present in the home at the time of Officer Alix’s death, for use in a criminal investigation. But the police declined to do so, she said.
Ms. Gardner said the Police Department had told her office that local hospitals would not honor a search warrant asking them to take a blood sample — even though that is a common practice in criminal investigations, the prosecutor said.
Instead, Ms. Gardner said, she was told that the Police Department’s internal affairs division had taken a urine sample and conducted a breathalyzer test on both officers, even though a blood test is a “more exact” way of determining the presence of drugs or alcohol.
To make matters worse, she said, the tests were conducted under Garrity rights, which her office described as a form of assurance given to officers that statements they make to internal affairs will not be used against them in court.
“This is a serious problem in objective investigative tactics” for a case that the police had been told was a continuing criminal investigation, she wrote.
“Taking these tests under the cover of Garrity appears as an obstructionist tactic to prevent us from understanding the state of the officers during the commission of this alleged crime,” she wrote in the letter. “We have the expectation that those test results will be turned over to our office immediately as part of the ongoing investigation.”
Ms. Gardner also expressed alarm over the Police Department’s quick assessment — both in public and in private conversations with her staff — that Officer Alix’s death was accidental.
When her office was first notified of the shooting, she wrote, two of her staff members were told over the phone by the head of the Force Investigative Unit, which investigates officer-involved shootings, that Officer Alix’s death was an accident.
She said that Colonel Hayden called it an accident again later that day and also referred to it as a death caused by the “mishandling” of a firearm.
“In my opinion, it is completely inappropriate for investigators to approach a crime scene that early in the investigation with a predisposed conclusion about the potential outcome of a case,” she wrote. She said she thought the Police Department’s statements amounted to “a violation of our duty as objective fact finders.”
But Officer Hendren’s lawyer, Talmage E. Newton IV, said Wednesday that it was Ms. Gardner who was behaving inappropriately.
In a statement, he said that by requesting access to the officers’ test results, Ms. Gardner was “circumventing the law and demanding information from the Police Department that would violate the United States Constitution.”
And he said her decision to charge Mr. Hendren one day after the shooting — which he described as a “tragic, accidental death” — demonstrated a “rush to judgment” on her part.
“It is clear that Circuit Attorney Gardner cannot be impartial, unbiased or objective in continuing to prosecute these charges,” Mr. Newton wrote. He said Ms. Gardner’s letter had rendered the entire investigation “unsalvageable” and “irreversibly tainted.”