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St. Louis Police Chief Blasts City Prosecutor As Dispute Continues Over Officer’s Death

St. Louis Police Chief John Hayden speaks to news reporters on Thursday afternoon.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Police Chief John Hayden speaks to news reporters on Thursday afternoon.

St. Louis Police Chief John Hayden says allegations that his department is obstructing the investigation into the death of an officer at the hands of another are “insulting.”

Hayden’s comments, made Thursday in his first public appearance since just after Officer Katlyn Alix was shot and killed Jan. 24, are the latest in a tense dispute between police and prosecutor Kim Gardner.

“The accusation by the circuit attorney that any action taken by the members of our Force Investigative Unit, or our internal affairs division, on this tragic morning was an obstructionist tactic was unwarranted, certainly untimely and absolutely irresponsible,” he said.

Nathaniel Hendren, 29, faces involuntary manslaughter and armed criminal action charges in Alix’s death. The two were allegedly playing a Russian roulette-style game at Hendren’s house while he was on duty.

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, 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.”

Hayden furiously refuted the characterization, saying his officers followed department procedure to the letter.

He provided no new details about the investigation into Alix’s death, including why Hendren and his partner had left their assigned patrol district to go to Hendren’s house, the nature of the relationship between Hendren and Alix, or whether drugs and alcohol may have played a role in the shooting. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Thursday that Hendren and his partner allegedly consumed alcoholic beverages while on duty.

“Because I do not in any way want to jeopardize the successful prosecution of this case, I will be very cautious about the information I provide,” he said. “For these reasons, some of your questions will have to remain unanswered for now.”

Hayden said the department will step up monitoring the locations of officers on duty by having higher-level commanders attend roll call. Supervisors would also have to check in with patrol officers hourly through the radio system or GPS technology in the patrol-car laptops.

Hendren was the fifth of what would ultimately be seven officers charged with felonies in the space of two months. Four face federal charges for assaulting an undercover officer during a 2017 protest, and two more were chargedMonday for an April 2018 shooting at a south St. Louis bar while they were off duty.

Hayden said he is “deadly concerned” about the culture of the department, but because the situations are not connected, there is not one specific policy change that would help prevent them in the future.

“What I can do about it is what I think we’ve done about it,” he said. “What I can do about it is ensure that these investigations are done appropriately, and that the proper result comes about when officers do that. I think, hey, as we speak, it sends a message to officers about conducting themselves better.”

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