ST. LOUIS — The St. Louis circuit attorney’s office has contradicted a highly publicized police account that two officers were nearly carjacked last month. Prosecutors on Tuesday called the police summary false and said the officers are now under investigation for lying in a sworn statement.
The officers were coached on what to say by a lieutenant, prosecutors allege. And video, they say, reveals nothing criminal — no gun pointed at an officer’s head, no attempted holdup.
Six days after the March 19 incident, the circuit attorney’s office got tired of waiting for police to turn over videos of the attempted carjacking, said chief warrant officer Chris Hinckley. So a prosecutor’s office employee called a local business directly to see if there was footage of the incident.
That video, segments of which were released to reporters in an unusual move Tuesday, disproves the police account, Hinckley said.
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While an officer said a man ran toward the police vehicle, tapped on the window with a handgun and pointed the gun at an officer, Hinckley said the business footage shows the man walking into the street, into the path of the police pickup, then walking away without ever lifting his hands from his side.
The entire confrontation lasted two or three seconds.
“This is nowhere near what he (an officer) represented,” Hinckley said. “You wonder why nobody got this footage.”
Hinckley announced that the circuit attorney’s office was dropping a weapons charge Tuesday against the 27-year-old man whose arrest made national news.
After viewing the video, the prosecutor summarized the man’s actions as what some might find tantamount to jaywalking, not criminal.
The man remains in custody in Jefferson County on unrelated charges.
The video of the encounter released Tuesday shows a police truck approach a man walking in or near the street and stopping. The truck then drives off camera as the man continues walking. Both disappear off camera.
The truck is next seen driving back toward where the encounter took place and in the direction of the man. The truck leaves the field of vision of the camera, and any second encounter is not visible.
St. Louis Police did not make Chief John Hayden available for an interview with the Post-Dispatch.
Police spokeswoman Evita Caldwell said police are aware of the allegations made by the circuit attorney’s office. However, Caldwell said, the office hasn’t shared any material with police.
“We have requested their supported material and will conduct a review,” Caldwell said.
The St. Louis Police Officers’ Association, the union that represents rank-and-file officers, said it stands behind the officers. The association wondered why the circuit attorney didn’t release the rest of the videos or mention that the suspect had made a confession.
Those would “fully and completely decimate the fairy tale narrative spun in today’s press conference,” the union said.
Jay Schroeder, head of the police union, said the relationship with the circuit attorney’s office has been adversarial and this is the latest example. He declined to talk about Hinckley’s findings because the officers will now be investigated.
Earlier, Schroeder told the Post-Dispatch, “If the officers felt it was attempted carjacking, we felt that should’ve been charged.”
Circuit Attorney Kimberly M. Gardner did not attend the news conference. Her employees wouldn’t say if the officers involved in this case were on what she calls her “exclusion list” of officers she believes can’t be trusted.
Gardner’s office originally had charged the suspect, a St. Louis man, with unlawful use of a weapon: pointing a black Taurus G2c handgun at the head and torso of an officer. That charge is now dismissed.
Police reported that the attempted carjacking happened early on March 19, a Saturday, in the city’s LaSalle Park neighborhood.
About 3 a.m., two officers had been driving to Chouteau Avenue and Seventh Street to check on a report of gunfire. According to a police summary, the officers saw a man run from a nearby bus stop and stand in the middle of Chouteau.
The 27-year-old man stepped in front of the officers’ police pickup truck on eastbound Chouteau near South Tucker Boulevard, preventing the police vehicle from moving, an officer said in court documents. The suspect walked to the passenger side and pointed a gun “directly at the torso and head” of another officer, police said in their report.
Police called it an attempted carjacking. The man ran off once he realized it was a marked police vehicle, police said. The officers put out a call for an “officer in need of aid.” Other officers came to the scene and began searching for the gunman. Police said they arrested him in the search and found him carrying a gun, which was not loaded. No one was injured.
Later that day, police sought charges of first-degree robbery, armed criminal action and resisting arrest. The circuit attorney’s office refused those charges and asked for more information, including any video evidence.
Hinckley said prosecutors asked repeatedly, over several days, for body camera footage and business videos. Police turned over bodycam footage four days after the incident. The officers’ bodycam videos weren’t turned on while they were seated in their vehicle; police never made an effort to get the business video, Hinckley said.
One officer’s bodycam footage recorded for nearly four hours after the incident, including conversations at the police station with a commander. Hinckley said those conversations indicate the commander was coaching the officers on how to write the report. Hinckley only showed brief clips from the recordings.
At the scene, after the suspect was arrested, one of the officers is heard, agitated and breathless, on bodycam footage saying that the man ran up on them and pointed a gun.
“He put a (expletive) gun, like this, at my window,” the officer said. He added: “He came running with full speed, he wasn’t walking. He came charging like this.”
The officer continued, on audio picked up from the bodycam: “He came from that bus stop and came literally charging at the car with the gun out, and put the gun to the window at Ricky like this. I said, ‘Is this dude for real?’”
What Hinckley saw on the business video was far different from the police account.
The video was taken from about a half-block away, across a parking lot, at night and in poorly lit conditions. The picture quality wasn’t crisp, and reporters asked Hinckley what he saw in the video.
Hinckley said the video shows the man walking into the street before the police vehicle drives up.
“He appears to be walking to cross the street,” Hinckley said, “but he stops due to the officers’ vehicle coming up upon him, which he stops, he takes a step back, he keeps his hands by his side and then moves to the left side of the vehicle, walking, never increasing or decreasing his pace. His hands appear to remain by his side.”
The Post-Dispatch asked Hinckley if the officers lied.
“That’s a safe assumption in some matters of this, yes,” Hinckley replied.
Redditt Hudson, a former St. Louis police officer who works with the diversion and alternative prosecution program within Gardner’s office, accompanied Hinckley to the news conference Tuesday. Hudson said the office rarely comments on investigations but felt compelled to do so in this case.
“If not for police body-worn cameras and business security camera footage, the truth of this matter would have never seen the light of day,” Hudson said. “What our investigation reveals is a serious breach of trust in our city’s criminal justice system.”
Last month, St. Louis police denied a public information request by the Post-Dispatch for available dashcam or body camera footage of the confrontation. The department cited an open investigation as the reason for not releasing the footage to the public. Police denied the request again on Tuesday.
‘This is nowhere near what he (an officer) represented. You wonder why nobody got this footage.’
Chris Hinckley, St. Louis Circuit attorney’s office