JEFFERSON CITY — The day after his predecessor suggested he was a coward for not sending the highway patrol to defend Mark and Patricia McCloskey, Gov. Mike Parson said the St. Louis couple “had every right” to wave guns and shout at protesters near their property.
Parson said Tuesday he has always stood up for the Second Amendment, and that as a member of the Missouri House, he sponsored the state’s revamped Castle Doctrine, which gives homeowners more leeway to shoot people on their property.
The governor appeared to be responding to sharp criticism from former Gov. Eric Greitens during an appearance Monday night on Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight show. Asked why the current governor didn’t come to the aid of the McCloskeys, Greitens said, “You have a cowardice problem.”
“You have some Republicans whose cowardice and complicity is also accelerating and fueling the problem here,” Greitens said. “There is no leadership, there is no direction.”
Black Lives Matter protesters were marching to Mayor Lyda Krewson’s house on June 28 when the McCloskeys confronted them at the entrance of the Portland Place, a private street in the Central West End.
“Why isn’t he doing something?” asked Carlson, referring to Parson, who was elevated to the state’s top job after Greitens resigned two years ago in disgrace and went into hiding. “Why didn’t he send state troopers to defend the McCloskeys?”
At a news briefing at the Capitol, Parson said, “Law enforcement on that night was available. … We weren’t notified through the governor’s office, through the Highway Patrol — was not notified of that situation. However, that being said, that couple had every right to protect their property.”
Parson then went on to criticize St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly M. Gardner, who he said was “attempting to take their constitutional rights away.”
Police served a search warrant at the McCloskeys’ mansion on Friday, and seized Mark McCloskey’s rifle. On Saturday, their attorney, Albert Watkins, turned over what he said was the handgun used in the incident. Gardner has said she is investigating the incident. On Carlson’s show Monday night, Mark McCloskey said he expects to be indicted, but didn’t indicate on what charge.
Parson said it was “very difficult” to remove an elected prosecutor from office, but it was “one of the things” the Legislature needed to address in the future.
The governor also said he spoke with President Donald Trump before the press briefing.
“He understands the situation in Missouri,” Parson said. “He understands the situation in St. Louis and how out of control it is to let violent criminals off and not do their job and try to attack law-abiding citizens.”
He said Trump promised to “do everything he could within his powers to help with this situation, and that he would be taking action to do that. I’m thankful that he’s getting involved in this situation.”
After the press conference, Gardner responded to Parson in a statement, accusing the governor and Trump of “launching dog-whistle attacks” and saying the two “came after me for doing my job and investigating a case.”
“While they continue to play politics with the handling of this matter, spreading misinformation and distorting the truth, I refuse to do so,” Gardner said. “As I always do, I am reviewing all the available facts and the law and will apply them equally, regardless of the people involved.”
“It is unbelievable the governor of the State of Missouri would seek advice from one of the most divisive leaders in our generation to overpower the discretion of a locally elected prosecutor,” she said. ”It is also incredible that at a time when our nation is dealing with a rapidly spreading deadly virus and our State reported a record number of new infections, they are launching these dog-whistle attacks against me. They should be focused on their jobs, and I’ll focus on mine.”
Allison Hawk, spokeswoman for Gardner, said the McCloskey case was still under investigation.
According to Missouri law, one of the ways to unlawfully use a weapon is to exhibit “in the presence of one or more persons, any weapon readily capable of lethal use in an angry or threatening manner.”
Parson said that didn’t apply in this case because of the Castle Doctrine.
“It’s on their property,” he said. “They have every right.”
Parson said he didn’t have any proof protesters were on the McCloskeys’ property.
As the Post-Dispatch reported Sunday, a live feed of the June 28 protest in question shows the first few protesters to enter Portland Place swerved away from the McCloskey property and onto the street.
The feed then showed Mark McCloskey shouting at the protesters and holding his rifle. No protesters were on the McCloskey property when he began hollering.
“I don’t know all the details of it,” Parson said.
On Wednesday, Parson will announce further details of a special session on violent crime. He has not identified a date, but it could be as early as July 27.
At a time when protesters have taken to the streets to call for changes in police techniques following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Parson wants the House and Senate to approve a more tough-on-crime package that includes state-level weapons charges for youth and the removal of residency rules for St. Louis police officers, in order to hire more officers.
Updated with a statement from the St. Louis Circuit Attorney.
The McCloskeys had every legal right to defend themselves.— Mike Parson (@mikeparson) July 14, 2020
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