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Legal questions remain after St. Louis cop drives into bar, arrests owner

Lawyer Javad Khazaeli (left) stands next to client Chad Morris (middle) and his husband James Pence (right) in front of the St. Louis City Justice Center on Dec. 19, 2023. Morris was arrested Monday morning for assaulting a police officer but was released from the jail Tuesday Police say the owner, Chad Morris, assaulted an officer and was arrested after a patrol car crashed into bar. Khazaeli said video refutes those claims.
Chad Davis
St. Louis Public Radio
Lawyer Javad Khazaeli, left, stands next to client Chad Morris, center, and his husband, James Pence, in front of the St. Louis City Justice Center on Tuesday. Morris was arrested Monday morning but was released from the jail Tuesday. Police said Morris assaulted an officer after a patrol car crashed into his bar. Khazaeli said video refutes those claims.

On Monday morning, a St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department officer drove his SUV through the front wall of a gay bar, smashing the vehicle through the establishment’s entrance. The incident ended with Bar:PM co-owner Chad Morris in handcuffs, under arrest and charged with felony assault.

Condemnation from local leaders and nationwide news coverage followed. The police department accused Morris of assaulting an officer after the crash; his lawyer said video refutes that claim. Morris was released from custody on Tuesday. His charges were downgraded to a misdemeanor.

The case was one of several taken up by St. Louis on the Air’s Legal Roundtable.

“You've got police looking out for police,” said attorney Mark Smith, a former associate vice chancellor and dean of career services at Washington University. “Even if that's not the case, that's certainly the perception in the public.”

Along with Smith, attorneys Kalila Jackson, director of legal services and senior staff attorney at the Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing Opportunity Council, and Dave Roland, director of litigation at the Freedom Center of Missouri, joined Thursday’s roundtable in unpacking the case.

No toxicology test was done on the officer who crashed into the bar. The incident is being investigated by the department’s Accident Review Board. Lt. Col. Renee Kriesmann said Wednesday that the officer driving "admits to getting distracted while attempting to change his in-car radio” before the crash, the Riverfront Times reported. Multiple videos captured the crash and moments before it, including what appears to be the police SUV driving through a red light seconds before impacting the bar.

No body camera footage has been released.

While Missouri law restricts the release of bodycam footage during active criminal cases, Roland said that the pending charges entitle Morris and his legal representation to request footage for his defense. What they do with that footage is up to them.

“I think they've got a clear right to [the footage],” Roland said. “As long as the recordings do not show third parties not employed by the law enforcement agency, I think they have the right to share that recording with anyone that they want to.”

To hear more from St. Louis on the Air’s Legal Roundtable, including about a St. Louis case heard in the U.S. Supreme Court and a lawsuit over people who died after drinking Panera’s Charged Lemonade, listen to St. Louis on the Air on Apple Podcast, Spotify or Google Podcast or by clicking the play button below.

St. Louis bar owner’s arrest sparks outcry

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Ulaa Kuziez is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to talk@stlpr.org

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Danny Wicentowski is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air."