Prosecutors in St Louis, Missouri on Monday charged a white husband and wife with felony unlawful use of a weapon for displaying guns during a racial injustice protest outside their mansion.
Mark and Patricia McCloskey are both personal injury attorneys in their 60s. Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner said their actions risked creating a violent situation during an otherwise non-violent protest last month.
“It is illegal to wave weapons in a threatening manner – that is unlawful in the city of St Louis,” Gardner said.
An attorney for the couple, Joel Schwartz, in a statement called the decision to charge “disheartening, as I unequivocally believe no crime was committed”.
Supporters of the McCloskeys said they were legally defending their $1.15m home.
We will not allow law-abiding citizens to be targeted for exercising their constitutional rights. https://t.co/6t5dUxdVgp
— Mike Parson (@mikeparson) July 18, 2020
Gardner is recommending a diversion programme such as community service rather than jail time if the McCloskeys are convicted. Typically, class E felonies could result in up to four years in prison.
Several Republican leaders have condemned Gardner’s investigation, including United States President Donald Trump, Missouri Governor Mike Parson and US Senator Josh Hawley, who has urged Attorney General William Barr to undertake a civil rights investigation of Gardner. Parson said in a radio interview on Friday that he would likely pardon the couple if they were charged and convicted.
Gardner said Trump, Parson and others are attacking her to distract from “their failed approach to the COVID-19 pandemic” and other issues.
St Louis, like many cities across the US, has seen demonstrations in the weeks since George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, and the McCloskeys’ home was initially incidental to the demonstration on June 28. Several hundred people were marching to the home of Democratic Mayor Lyda Krewson, a few blocks from the McCloskeys’ home. Krewson had angered activists by reading on Facebook Live the names and addresses of some who had called for defunding the police.
The McCloskeys live on a private street called Portland Place. A police report said the couple heard a loud commotion and saw a large group of people break an iron gate marked with “No Trespassing” and “Private Street” signs. A protest leader, the Reverend Darryl Gray, said the gate was open and that protesters did not damage it.
In this video you can see protestors walk right through the gate. It’s not destroyed when they walk onto the street.
You can hear McCloskey, “get the hell out of my neighborhood.” pic.twitter.com/ZbBNP2Xc4v
— Alexis Zotos (@alexiszotos) June 29, 2020
Mark McCloskey confronted protesters with a semiautomatic rifle, screamed at them and pointed the weapon at them, according to a probable statement from police officer Curtis Burgdorf. The statement said Patricia McCloskey then emerged with a semiautomatic handgun, yelling at protesters to “go” and pointing the gun at them. Protesters feared “being injured due to Patricia McCloskey’s finger being on the trigger, coupled with her excited demeanor”, the statement said.
No shots were fired.
Trump spoke by phone with Parson last week to criticise Gardner’s investigation. Parson, when he was in the state legislature, co-authored Missouri’s “castle doctrine” law that justifies deadly force for those who are defending their homes from intruders. He has said that the McCloskeys “had every right to protect their property”.
Gardner, St Louis’s first Black circuit attorney, declined to discuss why she decided the castle doctrine did not apply.
Schwartz said the McCloskeys “support the First Amendment right of every citizen to have their voice and opinion heard. This right, however, must be balanced with the Second Amendment and Missouri law, which entitle each of us to protect our home and family from potential threats.”
Several Black leaders in St Louis have expressed support for Gardner, including Democratic Congressman William Lacy Clay, who has said protesters “should never be subject to the threat of deadly force, whether by individuals or by the police”.