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Edwards Defends St. Louis Police Department As Two More Officers Face Criminal Charges

Public Safety director Jimmie Edwards defends the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department on Jan. 29, 2019 against charges that officers are obstructing  Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner's investigation in the death of Katlyn Alix.
Andrew Field | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis’ public safety director has offered a vigorous defense of his police department following charges against two more officers Tuesday and criticism from the St. Louis prosecutor in another case.

“There is not a social pattern of dysfunctionality in the St. Louis police department,” Jimmie Edwards said Tuesday at a news conference. “We have an excellent police department. We ask them to go out and do a very difficult job every single day. And you know what? Most of them do it well.”

Edwards was responding in part to criticism from Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner about the way investigators are handling the death of Katlyn Alix. The 24-year-old officer was shot and killed by an on-duty officer Jan. 24 in what the department called a Russian Roulette-style game. That officer, Nathaniel Hendren, 29, faces felony involuntary manslaughter and armed criminal-action charges.

In a letter dated Monday, Gardner raised concerns that investigators collected urine samples from and did Breathalyzer tests on Hendren and his partner in a way that means the evidence can only be used in an internal investigation, not a criminal case. A U.S. Supreme Court ruling known as Garrity v. New Jersey says statements officers are compelled to make to keep their jobs cannot be used in criminal cases, because the officers could not exercise their right to remain silent.

“This is a serious problem in objective investigative tactics,” Gardner wrote. “The police department understood that we wanted blood samples for the purpose of the criminal investigation. Taking these tests under the cover of Garrityappears as an obstructionist tactic to prevent us from understanding the state of these officers during the commission of this alleged crime.”

Edwards sharply refuted Gardner’s charge.

“To suggest that an officer is engaging in any obstruction of justice is ludicrous,” Edwards said.

It’s up to the investigators, not prosecutors, to process the scene, he added. “You cannot conflict the job of the prosecutor and the police, and we have to make sure that we understand that.”

Edwards’ comments came after Gardner’s office announced that two officers had been charged in connection with an April 2018 shooting that occurred while they were off duty and at a bar in south St. Louis. They are the sixth and seventh officers to face criminal allegations in the last two months. In addition to Hendren, four officers were indicted federally in November for their actions during protests in 2017.

“It’s important that we aren’t alarmist here,” Edwards said. “I'm looking at the behavior of police officers that occurred three years ago, four years ago, five years ago, and it’s unfortunate for me that all of these things culminate in this particular week.”

The St. Louis Police Officers Association blasted Gardner’s decision to charge the officers in the south city bar shooting, calling it an abuse of her power designed to distract from her own problems, which include questions about her conduct in the prosecution of former Gov. Eric Greitens.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

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