St. Louis officers charged over shooting outside a bar
ST. LOUIS (AP) — Two St. Louis police officers have been charged in a shooting outside a bar, the latest embarrassment for a department still reeling from an officer’s shooting death at the hands of a colleague.
Prosecutors on Monday charged officers Joseph Schmitt and William Olsten with first-degree assault and armed criminal action stemming from a violent altercation last April. Schmitt also faces a weapons charge.
The charges come just days after Officer Katlyn Alix, 24, was fatally shot while allegedly playing with a gun with a colleague, Nathaniel Hendren. He is accused of involuntary manslaughter .
And in November, four St. Louis officers were accused in a federal indictment of beating a black undercover colleague during a 2017 protest against police. That same protest has spawned more than a dozen federal lawsuits alleging that several officers roughed up innocent demonstrators, onlookers and journalists.
John Chasnoff, a St. Louis activist who leads a group called the Coalition Against Police Crimes and Repression, said the many protests in the region since Michael Brown was killed by a police officer in nearby Ferguson in 2014 “have opened eyes in the community that some of the police are out of control.”
Police Chief John Hayden was not available Tuesday for an interview, a department spokeswoman said. But after the indictments in November, he said the vast majority of officers “serve the community on a daily basis with integrity and honor.”
It was an investigation by Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner’s office — not police — that led to the latest charges.
The shooting happened April 27 outside Bomber O’Brien’s bar. Hayden told reporters at the time that four off-duty officers were there when one of them got into a confrontation with a 22-year-old patron.
A probable cause statement released Tuesday said that outside the bar, Schmitt and Olsten approached a van where the patron was sitting. During the encounter, Olsten allegedly slammed the patron to the ground, causing the patron’s gun to go off.
Olsten was struck in the hand and arm. Schmitt responded, according to the probable cause statement, by shooting the patron, who was seriously injured but survived.
Neither officer has a listed attorney. Police declined comment but a leader of the police union called the charges “an unprecedented abuse of power” by Gardner.
“Kim Gardner has disregarded the statements of four police officers, video evidence and forensic evidence and instead decided to take the word of a would-be cop-killer who the police department describes as a known gang member and charged the victims in this crime,” St. Louis Police Officers Association business manager Jeff Roorda said in a statement.
Gardner’s office said police in May sought charges against the patron. Gardner not only declined, but launched her own investigation that instead led to charges against the officers.
Gardner, in a statement, said criminal actions by police erode public trust.
“These types of situations, while rare, are crushing to the criminal justice system,” she said.
The charges come as the department continues to mourn the death of Alix. Hayden called her “an enthusiastic and energetic young woman with a bright future ahead of her.”
Hendren and a male colleague were on-duty early Thursday when they went to one of the officers’ apartment. The reason for going to the unit has not been disclosed. Alix, who was not working, met them there.
A charging document said Hendren and Alix were taking turns pointing a gun loaded with one bullet at each other and pulling the trigger. Twice the gun didn’t go off but when Hendren pointed it at Alix, she was shot in the chest, the document said.
Hendren has been held in a St. Louis jail but will be moved to an undisclosed facility elsewhere in Missouri for his own protection. His attorney is seeking to reduce his $50,000 bond.
In a letter to Hayden and Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards written Monday but first obtained by KMOV-TV on Tuesday, Gardner questioned whether police tried to block drug and alcohol testing of the two male officers. The letter also criticized police officials for initially characterizing the shooting as an accident, calling it a “pre-disposed conclusion.”
St. Louis erupted in protests in September 2017 after a former officer, Jason Stockley, was acquitted in the death of a black suspect.
Two nights after the acquittal, demonstrators broke windows and turned over flower pots downtown. Police made 123 arrests, but protesters and civil rights leaders said many of those arrested were peaceful demonstrators, journalists and onlookers who were brutalized and taunted.
Among those allegedly attacked by police was one of their own. A federal indictment in November accused officers Dustin Boone, Randy Hays and Christopher Myers of attacking an undercover colleague, not knowing he was an officer, and trying to obstruct the investigation. A fourth officer, Bailey Colletta, was accused of lying to a federal grand jury.