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Officers charged in shooting at St. Louis bar; police had wanted charges against victim, prosecutor says

Officers charged in shooting at St. Louis bar; police had wanted charges against victim, prosecutor says

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ST. LOUIS • In a case that pits the police department against the circuit attorney’s office and is another blow to the reputation of the police, two St. Louis police officers were charged Monday in connection with a shooting outside a bar last spring.

The shooting, which police at the time said began as a confrontation between an off-duty officer and a 22-year-old bar patron, happened April 27 on the parking lot of Bomber O’Brien’s Sports Bar & Grill. St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly M. Gardner said in a statement that police last year sought charges against the patron.

William Olsten and Joseph Schmitt, charges dismissed

William Olsten (left) and Joseph Schmitt, St. Louis police officers, had assault charges dismissed in a ruling that prosecutors "willfully" failed to turn over evidence to the defense. 

Officers Joseph Schmitt and William Olsten, one of them holding a gun, approached another bar patron’s vehicle outside the nightspot at 4621 Beck Avenue, according to authorities. The other man also had a gun, and as Olsten slammed him to the ground, the gun went off, hitting Olsten. Schmitt then shot the other bar patron, authorities say.

In her statement, Gardner said her office began investigating when the police department’s Force Investigation Unit on May 7 sought charges against the civilian bar patron, and those charges were refused by prosecutors “based upon insufficient evidence.”

Prosecutors filed charges against the officers on Monday. Schmitt was charged with first-degree assault, armed criminal action and unlawful use of a weapon. Olsten was charged with first-degree assault and armed criminal action.

“The alleged actions of these police officers strike at the heart of police power and community trust in law enforcement,” Gardner said in the statement. “Police officers are given great authority by the community. As prosecutors, we must have confidence in the words and actions of police officers when they bring charges to our office for potential prosecution.

“These types of situations, while rare, are crushing to the criminal justice system,” Gardner said, adding “I want to send a clear message to this community. No one is above the law, even law enforcement officers.”

Bomber O'Brien's

St. Louis officers investigate a shooting outside Bomber O'Brien's, a bar on Beck Avenue near Kingshighway, on April 27, 2018. Photo courtesy KTVI

In its own statement, the St. Louis Police Officers Association criticized Gardner’s decision to file charges as “an unprecedented abuse of power,” saying the charges contradict the four officers’ statements and video surveillance footage.

Bail has not been set in the case and it was not immediately clear whether the officers were in custody. A police spokeswoman said both had been placed on unpaid administrative suspension. Schmitt has been an officer for two years and Olsten has been an officer for more than 10, they said.

An attorney for the alleged victim in the case hailed Gardner’s decision to pursue charges and pledged to cooperate with her office.

“Officers Schmitt and Olsten ... failed to identify themselves as police officers, used police issued firearms and police tactics to investigate and approach” their client, lawyer Bryan Sanger said in a written release, causing “serious, disabling and permanent physical and emotional damage.”

St. Louis Police Chief John Hayden said at the time of the shooting that four officers had been at the bar in the Tower Grove South neighborhood that night, all off duty. Hayden promised a thorough investigation, including to determine the blood-alcohol levels of the officers.

The officer who shot the other patron used his department-issued gun, Hayden said.

The bar patron’s father told reporters after the shooting that the altercation may have started when someone spilled drinks on someone else inside the bar, and the fight continued outside.

Charging documents don’t say what occurred inside the bar.

The civilian, referred to only as S.D. in charging documents, was sitting in his van alone outside the bar when he saw Schmitt get into his truck, which was parked next to the van. Schmitt moved the truck to another part of the parking lot, where he talked to others, the charges say.

S.D. saw Schmitt and others then approach his van, then Schmitt crouched on the passenger side with a pistol and Olsten opened the driver’s side back door and jumped inside, the charges claim.

All were in plainclothes and did not identify themselves as police, the charges say.

S.D. grabbed his own gun “in defense of himself” and got out, the charges say,

“After a brief exchange,” the charges say, Olsten grabbed S.D. as he tried to leave and slammed him to the ground, causing S.D.’s gun to go off.

That shot hit Olsten in the hand and upper arm, and Schmitt responded by shooting S.D. multiple times from behind as he was trying to move away, the charges claim.

S.D. was hit in the arms and legs.

Olsten was named last year in a federal suit over the protests that followed the acquittal of Jason Stockley. The suit says Olsten got agitated and, without warning, used a pepper spray fogger on four people. The lawsuits say he used the pepper spray though he faced no threat. Hayden, then a major, was the supervisor on the scene and witnessed the events, the suits say.

Schmitt was 25 at the time of the shooting, according to Hayden’s statements last year. He graduated from the police academy in January 2017, according to a police department Facebook post.

Officer Katlyn Alix, who was killed last week in an alleged Russian roulette-like shooting, also graduated in that academy class. Authorities have charged a fellow officer in her death, saying they took turns pulling the trigger on a revolver with one bullet in it as they pointed it at each other early Thursday. She was hit in the chest, according to charges against Officer Nathaniel Hendren.

Kim Bell and Christine Byers of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

Officer-involved shootings in the St. Louis area during 2019

These are the incidents of police officer shootings in the St. Louis area during 2019.

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