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St. Louis officials won't prosecute trespassing cases in protest on Portland Place

St. Louis officials won't prosecute trespassing cases in protest on Portland Place

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UPDATED at 9 p.m. Tuesday with comment from a protester who was served with a summons. 

ST. LOUIS — City officials said Tuesday they will not prosecute nine people charged with trespassing on a private and gated street where they were met by two gun-wielding homeowners.

The nine had been issued police summonses earlier this month, but City Counselor Michael Garvin said in a statement that “prosecution is not warranted” and charges would be refused.

Garvin wrote that the cases had been investigated by municipal court prosecutors, who reviewed video of the June incident, conducted interviews and examined property records of the street, Portland Place. He also said residents who are trustees of Portland Place made clear through their lawyer that they did not want to pursue trespassing charges.

Still pending is one felony count of unlawful use of a weapon-exhibiting against two Portland Place homeowners, Mark and Patricia McCloskey. Mark McCloskey was armed with an AR-15 rifle and his wife had a semiautomatic handgun. Charging documents say they pointed the guns at protesters, placing the demonstrators in fear of injury.

Javad Khazaeli, who represents two of the protesters who were charged, faulted the time and expense of the investigation.

“This did not benefit the taxpayers. The only (people) that I can see that this would have benefitted was the McCloskeys,” he said, referring to their criminal case.

The protest was not aimed at the McCloskeys. Marchers were using the street as a shortcut to Mayor Lyda Krewson’s house. But the incident made the couple national figures, leading to their opening night speech during the Republican National Convention last month.

The McCloskeys have said protesters broke through a locked gate. The marchers have denied that. The McCloskeys’ lawyer, Joel Schwartz, said Tuesday that just because charges were dropped does not mean protesters were not trespassing.

“It was clearly trespassing and the McCloskeys were clearly within their rights to do what they did,” he said. A former lawyer for the couple has said Patricia McCloskey’s handgun was not functional.

The lawyer for the Portland Place trustees did not immediately return messages seeking comment. The McCloskeys are currently suing neighbors over a 1,143-square-foot triangle of grass in front of common ground, part of a history of lawsuits filed by the couple.

“The St. Louis Police Department sent these citations to harass and intimidate witnesses in the McCloskey case, and to chill the First Amendment rights of protestors," said Micah Hainline, 38, one of the protesters initially served with a trespassing summons. "The city counselor’s office held these charges open until the day before the scheduled court date for the same reason. While it certainly had the intended effect in some instances, ultimately these tactics will not prevail."

The prosecution of the McCloskeys has been criticized by Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt and Gov. Mike Parson, who has vowed to pardon them if they are convicted.

Jeremy Kohler of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report. 

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