ST. LOUIS — Personal-injury lawyers Mark and Patricia McCloskey, who pointed a rifle and pistol at protesters Sunday night in front of their Portland Place mansion, said through their lawyer Monday that they felt threatened by two “bad actors” who destroyed an iron gate to their private street and lobbed insults at them.
“My clients, as melanin-deficient human beings, are completely respectful of the message Black Lives Matter needs to get out, especially to whites,” said lawyer Albert Watkins. He said the McCloskeys “acted lawfully” out of “fear and apprehension, the genesis of which was not race-related.”
A live stream from the protest seemed to contradict that protesters gained access to the street by breaking down the gate, and one protester who witnessed the showdown told the Post-Dispatch that marchers took notice of the McCloskeys only when the couple emerged from their home armed and threatening to kill them.
“Several people were asking them to put their guns away or to stop pointing them at us,” said protester James Cooper. “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 bloodbath.”
The encounter played out as protesters marched through the Central West End toward Mayor Lyda Krewson’s home to demand her resignation because she had aired the names and addresses Friday of several protesters calling for the closure of the Medium Security Institution known as the workhouse.
In addition to a Post-Dispatch photographer documenting the confrontation, a video of the incident posted to Twitter had been viewed more than 15 million times Monday.
“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).”
To access Portland Place, the crowd entered through an iron pedestrian gate. The McCloskeys told police the protesters broke the gate to get in.
The couple’s renovation of their storied Renaissance palazzo mansion on Portland Place was featured several years ago in St. Louis Magazine. City records show the property is appraised at $1.15 million. The windows at the couple’s law firm were boarded up Monday.
City police said the couple had called 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 to Krewson’s home on Lake Avenue a block away.
Police said they are investigating the incident on Portland Place but are labeling it as a case of trespassing and fourth-degree assault by intimidation. A police spokeswoman referred a reporter to “the courts” as to whether the couple were within their rights to point guns at protesters.
Anders Walker, a constitutional law professor at St. Louis University, said Monday that it was “very dangerous” for the McCloskeys to engage with protesters by brandishing guns, but Missouri’s Castle Doctrine allows them to defend their property on Portland Place, a private street.
“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 released a statement Monday saying 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 the incident on Portland Place as well as an assault among protesters Saturday afternoon at the King Louis IX statue atop Art Hill in Forest Park.
“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.”
On Monday, Rep. Steven Roberts, a St. Louis Democrat running for a state Senate seat, said his campaign won’t keep a $250 contribution he received last year from Mark McCloskey. He said he would donate it to Moms Demand Action, a group that pushes for stricter gun laws.
Campaign finance reports say Mark McCloskey has supported other Democratic candidates including a $3,250 donation to Russ Carnahan in 2016 when the former U.S. representative ran for lieutenant governor. McCloskey also supported Donald Trump’s election in 2016, according to Federal Election Commission records.
Sunday’s protest culminated at Krewson’s house. Her spokesman did not reply to a reporter asking if Krewson was at home Sunday night.
At least 500 people demonstrated, chanting “Resign Lyda, take the cops with you.” They were upset that the mayor had released on a Facebook Live briefing the names and addresses of several residents who suggested defunding the police department. The video has been removed, and Krewson has apologized, saying she “did not intend to cause distress or harm to anyone.”
Jack Suntrup of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.