ST. LOUIS (AP) — Several elected officials and faith leaders on Monday called for an investigation into the way police arrested and incarcerated protesters at a suburban St. Louis mall, with many referring to the altercation as a “police riot.”
Police from both agencies involved in the arrests defended officers’ actions, saying demonstrators got out of hand Saturday at the St. Louis Galleria in Richmond Heights, Missouri, and officers had no choice but to take some of them to the ground.
The protest was among many in St. Louis and its suburbs since a judge ruled in mid-September that former police officer Jason Stockley was not guilty of first-degree murder in the death of Anthony Lamar Smith, a black suspect. Nearly 200 people have been arrested since the Sept. 15 ruling.
Among them were 22 people arrested at the Galleria.
“A police riot broke out, but let me be clear — it was terrorism,” the Rev. Karen Anderson of Ward Chapel AME Church in Florissant said at a news conference involving about three dozen people, including pastors, a rabbi and state lawmakers. She and several other speakers urged an investigation of the way police are handling protesters, through the U.S. Department of Justice, the Missouri Legislature or some other body.
Also Monday, Missouri Republican Attorney General Josh Hawley said he would hire an independent counsel to investigate claims that evidence was withheld in a federal civil rights lawsuit over Smith’s shooting.
Albert Watkins, an attorney for Smith’s fiancée and daughter, said the attorney general’s office during that lawsuit failed to provide DNA evidence found on a gun in Smith’s car or additional video footage that was later used in the criminal case against Stockley. Watkins said he’s not sure who’s at fault for withholding that evidence, but that the lawsuit consequently was “horribly compromised in a fashion that truly compromises the integrity of our justice system.”
As for the Galleria protest, those arrested included a 13-year-old boy and the Rev. Kayla Frye of St. Peter AME Church in St. Louis. Frye did not participate in Monday’s news conference, which was held at her church.
She and six other protesters were charged with rioting and resisting arrest after Saturday’s demonstration. Frye was also charged with assault for allegedly jumping on the back of a police officer. The other 15 people arrested were referred to Richmond Heights municipal court for charges.
The protest began with about 150 people marching through the upscale mall. Things took a turn when protesters blocked an escalator and sought to go the second floor, against the wishes of mall management, police said.
Someone threw a trash can at officers. Richmond Heights Capt. Gerry Rohr used a bullhorn to order the crowd to disperse. He said he issued the same warning two more times over several minutes as St. Louis County police arrived to assist.
Marjorie Theodore, who was at the protest, told reporters Monday that there was so much noise Saturday that she couldn’t make out what was said over the bullhorn. Her 33-year-old son was among those arrested.
A St. Louis Post-Dispatch photographer took pictures showing Frye on the back of a St. Louis County officer as he appeared to be making an arrest. Another picture showed Frye being arrested. Some said the second photo showed her being choked by an officer.
Rohr and St. Louis County police spokesman Shawn McGuire deny Frye was choked. They said the photo showed a Richmond Heights officer pulling her away from the county officer she had jumped on, a man who is still off work with a back injury that resulted, McGuire said.
“When she jumps on the back of a police officer while affecting an arrest, that’s an assault,” McGuire said.
Rohr said the photo was misleading.
“She was not placed in a chokehold,” Rohr said. “That’s burst photography. I guarantee the officer was trying to push that woman away and get her under control.”
Police tactics also were questioned on Sept. 17 in St. Louis, when more than 120 people were arrested after windows were broken at several businesses. Some of those arrested for “failure to disperse” were just onlookers, including a Post-Dispatch journalist, an Air Force officer and an undercover police officer, the Post-Dispatch reported.
Associated Press writer Summer Ballentine contributed to this report from Jefferson City, Missouri.