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Dotson, Slay Dismayed By Six Violent Deaths, Police Will Monitor Surveillance Cameras

Mayor Francis Slay and Police Chief Sam Dotson at a press conference on January 15, 2015, discussing six homicides in 13 hours.
File photo | Bill Greenblatt | UPI

Updated at 1:35 p.m. Friday with additional information about the crimes.

A spate of violence in St. Louis overnight Wednesday left six people dead in five unrelated incidents.

"This is a big black eye on our city," a somber Mayor Francis Slay said at a press conference Thursday evening. "I have a tremendous amount of sympathy for the families of these victims. This is something that we're not proud of." 

Slay said his heart sank when he received a call from St. Louis Metropolitan Police Chief Sam Dotson early Thursday morning. He called the violence "outrageous, out of hand and disgusting." It started around 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and ended around 8:15 a.m. Thursday. Three suspects are in custody, two were armed when arrested.

""I'm absolutely dismayed," Dotson said at a Thursday morning press conference. "I'm dismayed at violence and crime in general." 

Slay said he continued to support the department wholeheartedly, and expected crime trends to improve as police are able to return to the neighborhoods and patrol.

The mayor also announced Thursday that the department is in the process of building a controversial real-time crime center that will route about 200 surveillance cameras to a single monitoring point at police headquarters.

The cameras are currently good investigative tools, Dotson said, providing good information after a crime is committed. The monitoring would help make them a good crime prevention tool.

"The key to good surveillance programs is having real-time monitoring, to be able to respond and deploy resources," Dotson said. "This is the first time that the police department will be able to do that."

The department received private funding to complete the work. Details about the donors and the amount of money were not immediately available.  

In an October report, the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri wassharply critical of integration efforts. Officials there were not aware of the grant. Neither was a staffer with Lewis Reed, the president of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen. A stalled bond issue sponsored by Reed currently contains $3 million for the center, but the funding would require voter approval.

The Crimes

Police provided the following information about the shootings:

  1. Around 7:30 Wednesday night, police responded to reports of a shooting in the 5000 block of Cates in the Academy neighborhood, where they found 34-year-old Leon Rivers lying in the street. He was later pronounced dead at a local hospital. Police say the suspect, 29-year-old Ramon Demery, came into the house through an unlocked door and gave some instructions to Rivers and a woman he was with. Rivers was shot when he tried to run. Demery was carrying a gun when he was arrested around 10:30 a.m. Thursday. He's been charged with four felonies, including first-degree murder.
  2. About 12:30 Thursday morning,  22-year-old Arthur Bolton, went to the residence of his ex-girlfriend, where he challenged the woman's current boyfriend to a fist fight outside the house. When the victim, 19-year-old Kenny Burgett, came outside, he was shot and killed. He was found in the 7800 block of Bandero in the Carondelet neighborhood. Bolton was arrested around 10:00 Thursday morning. A second man, 20-year-old Michael Edwards, was arrested and charged with witness tampering for allegedly calling the ex-girlfriend.
  3. Less than 10 minutes later, police received a call about a shooting in the 3500 block of Osage, in the Dutchtown neighborhood. Three suspects got out of a car in the alley, and walked east on Osage to confront a group of three individuals. Multiple shots were fired during the ensuing robbery. One of the three victims, a 21-year-old male, was not hit. A second victim, 21-year-old Eric Lee, was shot in the head and pronounced dead at a local hospital. A third victim, 20-year-old Jerivon Taylor, was pronounced dead at the scene. Police believe the robbery may have been drug-related. Watch surveillance video of the suspects.
  4. Surveillance video from the Drury Inn at 2111 Sulpher Ave shows the suspect in the murder of night manager Scott Knopfel.
    Credit (Provided by St. Louis Metropolitan Police)
    Surveillance video from the Drury Inn at 2111 Sulpher Ave shows the suspect in the murder of night manager Scott Knopfel.
      Around 3:00 Thursday morning, a night manager at the Drury Inn near Hampton and Interstate 44 was shot in the head during a robbery. Police say the manager, 50-year-old Scott Knopfel, buzzed the suspect into the hotel. The man spoke to Knopfel briefly at the front desk, then produced a hand gun and jumped the counter. Knopfel was shot during a struggle over the cash box. Police say they do not know if anything was taken.  Watch surveillance video of the suspect.
  5. Around 8:15 a.m. Thursday -- just before Chief Dotson and Capt. Michael Sack of the crimes against persons division addressed the media -- police found the sixth victim in a car near the intersection of Tucker Blvd. and Chouteau Ave., near the Clinton-Peabody apartments. Police say 32-year-old Cheri Simpson, was driving a car stopped at the light at that location when 49-year-old Willie Barnes pulled alongside her vehicle. The two exchanged words, and Barnes fired into the car. Simpson was pronounced dead at a local hospital. A second passenger, Simpson's current boyfriend, was shot in both hands, and remains in stable condition. A third passenger, another 32-year-old man, was not injured. Barnes was armed when he was taken into custody Thursday -- he's been charged with five felonies, including first degree murder. Simpson and Barnes had a child together, and police she had an active restraining order against him.

Many of the suspects have extensive criminal histories, Dotson said. He again repeated his frustration with the unwillingness of city judges to set high bonds for gun crimes.
"It's not unusual for us to re-arrest individuals whole with ankle monitors on," he said. "The deterrents are not there. The courts are a revolving door in many cases. While you do see some cases that have long-term sentences, we see many, many more that are probation, and those individuals have long criminal histories and continue to offend."

Dotson has been especially critical of low bonds for gun possession cases, and the failure of the court in 2013 to adopt a plan that would have put most lower-level gun crimes like illegal possession in the hands of two judges.

A spokesman for the 22nd Circuit Court, Thom Gross, said the judges were sensitive to the issue. But he said there was no evidence to support the plan supported by Dotson, Mayor Francis Slay, and prosecuting attorney Jennifer Joyce. And he said judges were concerned about the constitutionality of artificially high bonds for gun possession crimes.

"When you set bond at $30,000 for every defendant, that's impossible for many of them to make," Gross said. "Every defendant is entitled by law to have a bond review, and that's where the judges look at the individual circumstances of the case and make a decision."

"The Police Are Not Equipped To Prevent Crime."

There have been eight homicides in January so far this year. Last year, 14 people were killed in January, on the way to a 2014 total of 159 homicides. Slay recently unveiled plans to fund 160 new officers -  a move opposed by the activist group Leadership Coalition for Justice, formerly known as the Justice for Mike Brown Leadership Coalition.

James Clark, the vice president of community outreach at Better Family Life, said the violence did not surprise him at all. He said adding additional police officers was a short-term solution to a more systemic problem.

"The police are not equipped to prevent crime," Clark said. "Increased police presence has an impact, but once you delve into the causes of crime, that's not part of the mission of the police department. We have got to stop blaming the police for crime problems. Crime stems from lack of educational opportunities, lack of employment opportunities, broken families, young people with idle time. Those are neighborhood problems and family problems."

Updated at 11:40 a.m. to correct number of homicides in 2014. It was 159, not 179.


Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.