Within the last 60 days, four St. Louis police officers were indicted for beating another officer who was black, on-duty and undercover; another police officer was indicted after he and his partner violated department rules and went to his house while on-duty, meeting up with a female officer who was off-duty and ended up shooting and killing her; and two more officers were charged with first-degree assault and armed criminal action for shooting a 22-year-old outside of a bar while off-duty. But if you ask the men in charge, everything is fine.
Thank goodness for Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner.
In a letter sent this week, Gardner called out those men, Police Chief John Hayden and Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards, accusing their department of obstructing her investigation into the killing of Officer Katlyn Alix by Officer Nathaniel Hendren.
Gardner described how her office was being blocked in trying to get samples of Hendren’s blood. Department policy requires immediate drug and alcohol testing for officers involved in shootings. As of Wednesday, six days after the shooting, Hayden still would not say whether Hendren and his partner, whose name Hayden still refuses to release, were tested.
In her letter, Gardner called it an “obstructionist tactic to prevent us from understanding the state of the officers during the commission of this alleged crime.”
Gardner also called out Hayden for giving false statements to the public the night Officer Hendren allegedly killed Officer Alix.
That night, Hayden told reporters that Alix’s death was “accidental”. And later that day in a press release, Hayden said the officers “mishandled” a weapon accidentally killing Alix. Those statements now appear to be misinformed, at best. Lies intended to mislead, at worst.
“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 the case,” Gardner wrote.
“The labeling of any criminal incident as an accident prior to a full investigation is a violation of our duty as objective fact finders,” she reminded Hayden and Edwards.
For his part, Edwards vigorously defended the department he oversees. “To suggest that an officer is engaging in any obstruction of justice is ludicrous,” Edwards said, apparently giving his own pre-disposed conclusion.
He argued, as have his many predecessors, that there is not systemic corruption or a dangerous culture within the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, but rather just a few bad apples.
“There is not a social pattern of dysfunctionality in the St. Louis police department,” Edwards told reporters Tuesday. “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.”
Most, yes. But many don’t. And it is the job of both Edwards and Hayden to weed out the violent, the corrupt, the cowardly, and the criminal from the ranks, not to defend or protect them.
You can never solve a problem until you first admit you have a problem. Jimmie Edwards and John Hayden have yet to take that important first step, even as their officers are beating and killing each other.