UPDATES with comments from protesters.
ST. LOUIS — As protesters made their way to Mayor Lyda Krewson’s home on Sunday night, demanding her resignation, they marched and shouted along private Portland Place. They were met by a couple pointing guns and telling protesters to get away.
Protesters chanted to a drumbeat of “Let’s go!” Hundreds of them filed by. The couple, Mark T. and Patricia N. McCloskey, stood outside with weapons. They are personal-injury lawyers who work together in The McCloskey Law Center and own a million dollar home.
“Private property!” Mark McCloskey shouted repeatedly at the crowd, as he held a rifle. “Get out! Private property, get out!” Patricia McCloskey pointed a small handgun.
Someone in the crowd replied, “Calm down.” A woman protester yelled, “Then call the (expletive) cops, you idiot!” and “It’s a public street (expletive).”
The Post-Dispatch photographed the exchange. A video on Twitter had been viewed more than 10 million times by Monday morning. President Trump retweeted an ABC News account of the confrontation.
The couple’s renovation of their storied Renaissance palazzo mansion on Portland Place was featured in St. Louis Magazine. City records show the property is appraised at $1.15 million. The couple could not be reached Monday morning to talk about the incident. The windows at the couple’s law firm were boarded up; no one responded to a knock on the door of their home.
To access Portland Place, the crowd entered through an iron pedestrian gate. The McCloskeys told police the protesters broke the gate to get in.
St. Louis police said the couple had called police for help once they saw the large crowd enter Portland Place. The McCloskeys had been at home and heard a loud commotion coming from the street; they went to investigate and saw “a large group of subjects forcefully break an iron gate marked with ‘No Trespassing’ and ‘Private Street’ signs,” police said.
“The group began yelling obscenities and threats of harm to both victims,” police said. “When the victims observed multiple subjects who were armed, they then armed themselves and contacted police.”
The crowd of protesters eventually moved on and arrived at Krewson’s home on Lake Avenue a block away.
Police are continuing the investigate the incident on Portland Place but are labeling it as a case of trespassing and fourth-degree assault by intimidation.
Meanwhile, were the couple, as they stood on their own property, within their rights to point weapons at protesters? Gun rights advocates say yes. A police spokesperson said to ask “the courts.”
Anders Walker, a constitutional law professor at St. Louis University, said that although it’s “very dangerous” to engage protesters with guns, the homeowners broke no laws by brandishing or pointing weapons at them because Portland Place is a private street. He said the McCloskeys are protected by Missouri’s Castle Doctrine, which allows people to use deadly force to defend private property.
“At any point that you enter the property, they can then, in Missouri, use deadly force to get you off the lawn,” Walker said, calling the state’s Castle Doctrine a “force field” that “indemnifies you, and you can even pull the trigger in Missouri.”
Luckily, Walker said, no one got shot.
“There’s no right to protest on those streets,” Walker said. “The protesters thought they had a right to protest, but as a technical matter, they were not allowed to be there. … It’s essentially a private estate. If anyone was violating the law, it was the protesters. In fact, if (the McCloskeys) have photos of the protesters, they could go after them for trespassing.”
St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly M. Gardner appeared to take a different view, releasing a statement Monday that said she’s “alarmed at the events that occurred over the weekend where peaceful protestors (sic) were met by guns and a violent assault.”
Gardner said her office is investigating.
“We must protect the right to peacefully protest, and any attempt to chill it through intimidation or threat of deadly force will not be tolerated,” Gardner said. “Make no mistake: we will not tolerate the use of force against those exercising their First Amendment rights, and will use the full power of Missouri law to hold people accountable.”
A lawyer for the couple, Albert S. Watkins, said the McCloskeys are supportive of the message of the peaceful protesters, but felt threatened by two “bad actors” who threw insults at them. The couple “acted lawfully” by seeking to protect their property and their family inside the home, he said. Their response stemmed from “fear and apprehension, the genesis of which was not race-related.”
“Their entire practice tenure as counsel (has) been addressing the needs of the downtrodden, for whom the fight for civil rights is necessary,” Watkins said. “My clients, as melanin-deficient human beings, are completely respectful of the message Black Lives Matter needs to get out, especially to whites … (but) two individuals exhibited such force and violence destroying a century-plus old wrought iron gate, ripping and twisting the wrought iron that was connected to a rock foundation, and then proceeded to charge at and toward and speak threateningly to Mr. and Mrs. McCloskey.”
Protester James Cooper said he didn’t see any protesters threaten the McCloskeys, but said several activists urged the crowd to keep moving past as the McCloskeys pointed guns.
“It was clear the only reason the Mccloskey home was getting any attention was because they were outside it threatening to kill us,” Cooper said. “Several people were asking them to put their guns away or to stop pointing them at us … I thought I was going to die. I was afraid (Patricia McCloskey) would open fire or accidentally discharge into the crowd. I was afraid someone among us would legitimately fear for their life and react defensively, which could’ve sparked a blood bath. I absolutely thought Patricia McCloskey was going to murder me and I haven’t slept since she aimed her gun at my face.”
The protest culminated at the mayor’s home on Lake Avenue. It wasn’t immediately clear if the mayor was home at the time. Her spokesman has not replied to a reporter asking if Krewson had been there.
At least 500 people demonstrated in the Central West End, chanting “Resign Lyda, take the cops with you.” They are upset that the mayor released names and addresses of residents who suggested defunding the police department.
For weeks, demonstrators have marched against police violence and held rallies to close the St. Louis Medium Security Institution known as the workhouse.
While giving a briefing Friday on Facebook Live, Krewson read the names and addresses of several protesters who had given her letters suggesting changes to the city budget.
“As a leader, you don’t do stuff like that … it’s only right that we visit her at her home,” said State Rep. Rasheen Aldridge, D-St. Louis, speaking into a megaphone at the protest Sunday.
During the video briefing Friday, Krewson held up a stack of crumpled papers and then read from them.
“Here’s one that wants $50 million to go to Cure Violence, $75 million to go to Affordable Housing, $60 million to go to Health and Human Services and have zero go to the police,” the mayor said. She then read the name of the person and their address.
Krewson listed several other names and addresses, and stated that each individual called for defunding the police entirely. As the mayor spoke, viewers commented and asked her to stop sharing demonstrators’ personal information.
The video was removed later that night. Krewson apologized in a statement late Friday, saying she “did not intend to cause distress or harm to anyone.”
Emails or letters to elected officials, including names and addresses, are generally considered public records but are typically released only after a formal request.
The Rev. Darryl Gray, who was at the protest Sunday, acknowledged that what Krewson did was legal, but called her actions immoral and unethical.
“Does she understand why people are angry?” Gray said into a megaphone. “If you had understood the people you were elected to serve, you wouldn’t have made that comment.”
An online petition calling for Krewson’s resignation had about 41,500 signatures by 9 p.m. Sunday.
One of the protesters outside Krewson’s home, Rodney Brown, said he felt “extremely fearful because we should be able to write to our public officials, and the fact that she doesn’t feel she has to be accountable or protect us … it’s a very violent gesture.”
Congressional candidate Cori Bush told protesters through a megaphone on Sunday, “When you are an activist and you speak up against police brutality, there are days you are stalked, followed, harassed … the mayor just said it’s OK.”
Earlier in the day, police set up metal barricades around the mayor’s home. Protesters later pushed through the barricades to gather on the mayor’s front porch and yard. The word “RESIGN” was painted in large letters on her street.
On June 17, at Krewson’s request, a city panel voted to cut $860,000 in spending on the workhouse to hire mental health and social workers to aid police. The move was in addition to plans to cut the $16 million jail budget nearly in half as inmate counts decline.
The mayor and her public safety team insist the jail is needed. The city has spent more than $5 million since 2017 on upgrades to the jail, which has a capacity of 436 and held 92 inmates on Friday.
In other developments, 16 people who were arrested during protests Saturday outside of the Florissant Police Department were released by 6 p.m. Sunday, according to St. Louis Jail and Legal Support.
Charges included disturbing the peace, unlawful assembly and failure to disperse. During the standoff on north Lindbergh Boulevard, protesters threw frozen water bottles, glass bottles, batteries and rocks, while officers used pepper spray and fired one bean bag round after a person assaulted an officer, according to a police statement.
Demonstrators have been gathering outside the department since a video became public June 2 showing a Florissant detective driving an unmarked SUV into a Black suspect. That detective, Joshua L. Smith, 31, has been charged with first-degree assault, fourth-degree assault and armed criminal action.
Protesters want to see the two officers who were with Smith in the SUV fired and charged. Police have said the officers will not be fired and a special prosecutor investigating the incident declined to press charges.
Joel Currier of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.