ST. LOUIS – St. Louis top cop and the city’s senior prosecutor are warring over how police handled the mysterious shooting of a young officer by a colleague.
St. Louis Police Commissioner John Hayden Jr. said Thursday he was insulted by allegations by the city’s circuit attorney that his officers interfered with her investigators in the hours after the shooting, reported USA Today.
Police say Officer Nathaniel Hendren, 29, shot Officer Katlyn Alix, 24, in his apartment shortly before 1 a.m. Jan. 24. They say Hendren and Alix were taking turns pointing a revolver loaded with single cartridge at each other and pulling the trigger. Hendren’s partner, Patrick Riordan, was also present, according to the report.
Moreover, Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner said this week there was evidence that drugs or alcohol might have been a factor in the shooting. The three officers had been drinking before the shooting, according to police.
Alix, who was off-duty at the time, was struck in the chest. Consequently, she was pronounced dead at a hospital.
Hendren, who was on-duty, has been charged with involuntary manslaughter and armed criminal action.
Gardner wrote to Hayden and the city’s public safety director this week asserting that police officers interfered with her investigators efforts to issue a search warrant to obtain a blood sample from Hendren and his partner.
Furthermore, the prosecutor claimed that police collected evidence in an “obstructionist” way that could prevent her office from getting a full understanding of the incident.
In rebuttal, Hayden said the accusations were simply untrue.
“Let it be clear that the accusations lodged by the circuit attorney was both offensive and insulting to the force investigative unit and myself,” Hayden said.
Gardner said police told her investigators that the hospital “would not honor a search warrant to draw blood” from Hendren or his partner.
“I’m sure you are aware that we have a protocol with area hospitals that they will honor our search warrants for blood draws,” Gardner wrote. “This procedure is common in criminal investigations.”
Later, she said, police officials told one of her prosecutors that a sample had been drawn. But when an investigator from her office asked if a blood sample was drawn, she said, police responded that a breath test and urine analysis had been performed, not a blood test.
She said her office learned that the tests were taken “under Garrity,” federal rules that protect public employees from being compelled to incriminate themselves during investigations conducted by their employers.
As a result, that could prevent the evidence from being used by her prosecutors in their investigation of the shooting.
“Taking the tests under Garrity appears as an obstructionist tactic to prevent us from understanding the state of the officers during the commission of this alleged crime,” Gardner wrote.
Hayden called a press conference Thursday to push back against her claims.
He said the Force Investigative Unit – the six-member team investigating the shooting – and internal affairs officers had to balance protocols in investigating a homicide that was also a police-involved shooting.
“Their combined homicide investigative experience spans more than 40 years,” Hayden said. “On the night of this tragic incident, our Force Investigative Unit and our Internal Affairs Division followed city regulations and department procedures to the letter.
“The accusation by the circuit attorney that any action … was taken as obstructionist tactic was unwarranted, certainly untimely, and absolutely irresponsible.”
Yet Gardner said Thursday the criminal investigation should have taken priority over the internal affairs investigation.
“It’s time to focus our efforts on working together to seek the truth of this matter, so we can get justice for Katlyn Alix and the community,” Gardner said.
Gardner also criticized Hayden for calling the shooting an “accidental discharge” in comments to reporters hours after the incident. Police initially said Hendren had “mishandled” the gun.
Hayden said he was conveying preliminary investigation that was gathered by detectives at the scene. He was aware that there were several firearms, he said, and that at least one had been handled in a “careless and unsafe manner.”
“I later learned that circumstances surrounding the shooting were much more reckless and dangerous than what I had originally understood,” he said. “At no time was the sharing of my early understanding … meant to imply that any conclusions had been drawn from the infancy stages of the investigation.”
A St. Louis judge changed the conditions of Hendren’s bond on Thursday. The officer, who has been suspended without pay, had been held in lieu of $50,000 cash-only bail.
Associate Circuit Judge David Roither set a $100,000 bond, but said Hendren would have to put up only $10,000 to be released while he awaits trial. Hendren was released Thursday, but will be on house arrest.