ST. LOUIS — The St. Louis couple who became worldwide news after waving guns at protesters outside their Central West End home last month were charged Monday with gun crimes, despite pushback against the investigation from Jefferson City to Washington.
Mark and Patricia McCloskey each face a single felony count of unlawful use of a weapon — exhibiting. Charging documents say he pointed an AR-15 rifle at protesters and she wielded a semiautomatic handgun, placing protesters in fear of injury.
Charging documents say investigators conducted “numerous” witness interviews and relied on video footage and the McCloskeys’ own statements about the June 28 incident.
In a statement, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly M. Gardner said, “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.”
She said the charges followed a thorough police investigation and that she would be open to resolving the charges with a diversion program, a form of probation that would mean no conviction for the McCloskeys if successfully completed.
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt said he will seek dismissal of the charges and called them a case of “political prosecution.”
Citizens shouldn’t be targeted for exercising their #2A right to self-defense— Eric Schmitt (@Eric_Schmitt) July 20, 2020
STL prosecutor Kim Gardner is engaged in a political prosecution
As AG I’m entering the case seeking a dismissal & defend all Missourians’ right to protect their lives/property pic.twitter.com/kQLXOAhFIz
Defense lawyer Joel Schwartz issued his own statement, calling the charges “disheartening as I unequivocally believe no crime was committed.”
Schwartz said that “the First Amendment right of every citizen to have their voice and opinion heard … 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 has previously told the Post-Dispatch that “based upon Missouri law and the Castle Doctrine, the McCloskeys were 100% within their rights.”
After the incident, the couple told the Post-Dispatch they would do it all again.
The couple said they’d been told days before that the protest group Expect Us was planning an event. Mindful of the June 1 arson of a 7-Eleven store in downtown St. Louis, the couple had fire extinguishers in every room on the lower level of their mansion. Mark McCloskey also had his rifle at the ready.
McCloskey said he saw a “flood of people” break through a locked gate and enter Portland Place, a private residential street.
Protesters have denied that, saying they came through an unlocked gate and did not damage it. A video from the night shows an apparently undamaged gate being held open for the first demonstrators, but at some later point, the gate was damaged. Protesters have also said they were not on the McCloskeys’ property.
The marchers were heading to St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson’s house on Lake Avenue and taking a shortcut through the private neighborhood.
The McCloskeys said they grabbed their guns and confronted the protesters, fearful for their lives. Mark McCloskey said both safeties were engaged on their guns. A lawyer for them later said the pistol was inoperable.
In a confrontation that lasted about 15 minutes, Mark McCloskey can be heard yelling, “Get out! Get out! Get out!” A protester responds, “Calm down!” while someone else yells an expletive.
“I believe in my heart of hearts that the only thing that kept those mobsters, that crowd, away from us is that we were standing there with guns,” Mark McCloskey told the newspaper. He said the couple’s actions had nothing to do with race.
Videos do not show protesters on the McCloskeys’ lawn, nor on a 1,143-square-foot triangle of grass the ownership of which is disputed. Mark McCloskey once said in a deposition that he had pointed a gun at a neighbor over that triangular patch.
A group of neighborhood residents later condemned the McCloskeys’ actions.
Asked about Monday’s charges, St. Louis University law professor John Ammann said, “It makes a lot of difference that the protesters were not on their property, according to the videos.” If the protesters were on their property, the reasons matter, he added, giving as an example someone picking up a water bottle that had been dropped or thrown. “Under the McCloskeys’ theory, they could shoot and kill a child running on their property to get a ball they were playing with,” he said.
He also said that the fact that the McCloskeys lived on a private street didn’t matter.
Gardner’s office issued charges despite a statement by Gov. Mike Parson that he would likely pardon the pair if charges were issued. Asked about a pardon in a radio interview Friday, Parson said that although he didn’t know all the facts, “by all means, I would, and I think that’s exactly what would happen.” Parson has previously said he believed the Castle Doctrine would apply.
Parson on Monday evening tweeted that the charges against the McCloskeys are “outrageous.”
Last week, U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Missouri, said he’d asked the Department of Justice in a letter to investigate Gardner’s office for a civil rights violation, calling her investigation an “abuse of power.” He also faulted Gardner for not charging protesters with trespassing. The Justice Department declined to comment.
In a statement in response, Gardner wrote, “I am deeply disappointed that a U.S. senator would intervene in a local matter that is under investigation.”
A Hawley tweet about the matter was both praised and criticized, with some saying he had ignored the facts and others asking why he was not instead focusing on the coronavirus pandemic.
Hawley was echoing comments by both Parson and President Donald Trump. Trump claimed the McCloskeys were at risk of being beaten and having their house ransacked and burned. He called the potential for their prosecution “a disgrace” in an interview.
A Gardner lawyer, Roy Austin, told CNN Thursday that Gardner has received “numerous threats to her life” since announcing the investigation as well as “vile, racist, sexist commentary” exacerbated by Trump. Austin called Trump’s comments on the case “insane” and Hawley’s letter to the Justice Department “a joke.”
Kim Bell of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.
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