St. Louis’ top prosecutor is accusing the police department of using an “obstructionist tactic” to prevent drug and alcohol testing of cops who were present during the Russian roulette death of their colleague, according to a new report.
In a letter released Tuesday, Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner chronicled the difficulties she says her investigators faced in trying to obtain blood tests of Officer Nathaniel Hendren and his partner in the hours after Officer Katlyn Alix’s shooting death last Thursday.
Both Hendren and his partner, both 29, were on duty when Hendren and Alix began playing Russian roulette. The pair of cops were supposed to be patrolling in the city’s 2nd District but was at Hendren’s home two miles away.
Hendren, who is accused of pointing the gun at Alix and firing the fatal shot, is charged with involuntary manslaughter and armed criminal action.
Gardner said there was “probable cause at the scene that drugs or alcohol may be a contributing factor in a potential crime,” according to the letter obtained by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
But the police department notified her office that breath and urine tests were conducted instead by Internal Affairs as per the federal “Garrity” law that protects public servants like police officers.
“The police department understood that we wanted blood samples for the purposes of the criminal investigation,” she wrote. “Taking these tests under the cover of Garrity appears as an obstructionist tactic to prevent us from understanding the state of the officers during the commission of this alleged crime.”
The prosecutor also ripped Police Chief John Hayden for characterizing the shooting first as an “accident.” The incident was later described as a “mishandling” of a firearm.
“In my opinion, it is completely inappropriate for investigators to approach a crime scene that early in the investigation with a pre-disposed conclusion about the potential outcome of a case,” she wrote. “It’s particularly troublesome given that the Force Investigative Unit is required to conduct objective investigations of officer-involved shootings.”
Jimmie Edwards, the public safety director who oversees the police department, told the Post-Dispatch that when Hayden made the comment he “operated on the information he was given” and noted that probes are often times “fluid.”
In a statement Friday, the Force Investigative Unit said it turned over its “initial findings to the Circuit Attorney’s Office which resulted in warrants being issued for involuntary manslaughter and armed criminal action.”
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