Charges Filed Against McCloskeys, St. Louis Couple Who Pointed Guns Toward Protesters
Updated at 6:55 p.m. July 20, with the Missouri attorney general filing a request for the court to dismiss the charges and comments from state Rep. Rasheen Aldridge, D-St. Louis
St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner has filed charges against a St. Louis couple who confronted protesters with guns in June.
Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the Central West End couple who confronted protesters June 28 with a rifle and a gun in Mayor Lyda Krewson’s neighborhood, have been charged with unlawful use of a weapon/flourishing.
The unlawful use of a weapon charge is a felony and can carry a sentence of up to four years in prison. It also can result in a fine and no years in prison.
Gardner said in a statement that “it is illegal to wave weapons in a threatening manner at those participating in nonviolent protest, and while we are fortunate this situation did not escalate into deadly force, this type of conduct is unacceptable in St. Louis.”
“The decision to issue charges was made after a thorough investigation with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department,” Gardner said. “I am open to recommending the McCloskeys participate in one of my office’s diversion programs that are designed to reduce unnecessary involvement with the courts. I believe this would serve as a fair resolution to this matter.
“We must protect the right to peacefully protest, and any attempt to chill it through intimidation will not be tolerated,” Gardner added.
Police executed a search warrant at their home recently and seized the rifle from the couple. The McCloskeys told police that attorney Al Watkins had the pistol seen in photos of the couple that went viral.
The couple pointed the weapons at protesters who were on their way to Krewson's house, upset with her decision to publicly say the names of those who wrote to her, urging her to close the city jail known as the Workhouse.
Police identified two victims by their initials in court documents, saying that Mark McCloskey, 63, screamed at the demonstrators, lowered his rifle and pointed it at those walking through a gate and onto the private street and sidewalk along Portland Place.
Patricia McCloskey, 61, began yelling at protesters telling them to "go" while pointing a handgun at demonstrators as her finger was on the trigger.
In a 911 call, Patricia McCloskey told dispatchers, "I've got to get a gun," then ended the call, according to the documents.
In order to issue the charges, prosecutors must prove the guns were capable of lethal force.
Watkins told reporters the pistol Patricia McCloskey used was only a prop from a federal trial that the couple used in a case. Both of them are attorneys.
A source familiar with the investigation told 5 On Your Side that police did not find any ammunition at the McCloskeys' home and that the rifle was not loaded when they seized it.
Watkins is no longer representing the McCloskeys, and their attorney now is Joel Schwartz.
Schwartz issued the following statement in response to the charges Monday: "The charges filed today against my clients, Mark and Patricia McCloskey, are disheartening as I unequivocally believe no crime was committed.
"I, along with my clients, support the First Amendment right of every citizen to have their voice and opinion heard. This right, however, must be balanced with the Second Amendment and Missouri law, which entitle each of us to protect our home and family from potential threats,” Schwartz said. "With that being said, given the heightened attention focused on this matter due to the current political environment, I don’t believe it is prudent to comment any further, at this time, or to try this case in the media.
"I look forward to reviewing the evidence and defending the McCloskeys against these allegations," he added.
The McCloskey case has become a flashpoint among some conservative political figures, who contend that the couple was acting in self-defense. Gov. Mike Parson told 97.1 FM Host Marc Cox that he was prepared to pardon the McCloskeys. And U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley called for a federal civil rights investigation into Gardner’s actions.
Shortly after Gardner's charges were announced, Attorney General Eric Schmitt's office filed an amicus brief urging the court to dismiss the case against the McCloskeys. John Sauer, Missouri's solicitor general, wrote that Missouri's laws "specifically authorize Missouri citizens to use firearms to deter assailants and protect themselves, their families, and homes from threatening or violent intruders."
"The prosecution sends a powerful message to all Missourians that they exercise their fundamental right to self-defense at their peril," Sauer said.
But others on both ends of the political spectrum have lambasted the McCloskeys for handling their firearms in an unsafe manner and overreacting to protesters who posed no threat to them. U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay, D-University City, was especially critical of Hawley’s letter, adding that the “rights of non-violent protestors are guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and should never be subject to the threat of deadly force, whether by individuals or by the police.”
And state Rep. Rasheen Aldridge, a St. Louis Democrat who was present at the June 28 protest, said in a tweet that Schmitt was "wrong on the issue." He said the situation wasn't about self-defense, since demonstrators were not headed toward the McCloskeys' home.
"They purposely came out their homes and pointed loaded firearms at unarmed and nonviolent protesters," Aldridge said. "This isn’t fairness but politics!"
St. Louis Public Radio correspondent Jason Rosenbaum contributed to this report.
Christine Byers is a reporter with 5 On Your Side, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.
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