Homeowners Mark and Patricia McCloskey stand in front their house on Portland Place as they confront protesters marching to St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson's house on June 28 in the Central West End. No shots were fired, and the protesters marched on.

ST. LOUIS — U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley announced on social media Thursday that he is asking for a federal investigation into the St. Louis circuit attorney’s office.

Hawley’s move — asking the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner’s office for a civil rights violation — is in reaction to the drama over the Portland Place couple who waved guns at protesters last month.

Josh Hawley

Josh Hawley, in a Post-Dispatch file photo

“Targeting law-abiding citizens who exercise constitutionally protected rights for investigation & prosecution is an abuse of power,” the Missouri Republican wrote on Twitter.

Mark and Patricia McCloskey are being investigated by St. Louis police and Gardner’s office for unlawful use of a weapon during a confrontation with protesters June 28.

No charges have been filed against the McCloskeys, but police have turned their findings over to the circuit attorney’s office. Hawley said an indictment is believed to be imminent.

Hawley told U.S. Attorney General William Barr, in a two-page letter dated today, that Gardner is “now threatening to prosecute not the trespassers, but the McCloskeys, and she is using the powers of her office to target them.”

“This is an unacceptable abuse of power and threat to the Second Amendment,” Hawley wrote.

“There is no question under Missouri law that the McCloskeys had the right to own and use their firearms to protect themselves from threatened violence, and that any criminal prosecution for these actions is legally unsound,” Hawley added. “The only possible motivation for the investigation, then, is a politically motivated attempt to punish this family for exercising their Second Amendment rights.”

Gardner has not yet responded to news of Hawley’s announcement.

Gardner released a statement shortly after the incident, saying she was “alarmed” that peaceful protesters were “met by guns and a violent assault.”  She added: “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.”

Earlier this week, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson said the St. Louis couple “had every right” to wave guns and shout at protesters near their property. Parson then went on to criticize Gardner, who he said was “attempting to take their constitutional rights away.”

Police served a search warrant at the McCloskeys’ mansion last Friday, and seized Mark McCloskey’s rifle. On Saturday, their attorney, Albert Watkins, turned over what he said was the handgun used in the incident.

Patricia McCloskey, reached by phone Thursday, referred a Post-Dispatch reporter to her criminal defense lawyer, Joel Schwartz. But Schwartz said hadn’t seen the Hawley announcement and had no comment.

The couple previously told the Post-Dispatch they had guns out because they felt threatened as the large group of protesters moved through their neighborhood, on their way to the mayor’s home to protest there. Protesters have said they made a point to stay off the McCloskeys property and that seeing the couple waving guns was frightening.

Hawley described the incident with the McCloskeys differently than how protesters and some videos depicted it. Hawley told Barr that “a family reportedly faced a mass of demonstrators trespassing on their property and threatening them. When help from the police or from nearby security failed to arrive, this family, the McCloskeys, did what any reasonable person would do: they retrieved their lawfully owned firearms and defended their property and their lives. The confrontation was resolved with no one being hurt.”

After Parson came out in support of the McCloskeys, Gardner issued a statement accusing the governor and President Donald Trump of “launching dog-whistle attacks.” Gardner said Parson and Trump “came after me for doing my job and investigating a case.”

“While they continue to play politics with the handling of this matter, spreading misinformation and distorting the truth, I refuse to do so,” Gardner said. “As I always do, I am reviewing all the available facts and the law and will apply them equally, regardless of the people involved.”

“It is unbelievable the governor of the State of Missouri would seek advice from one of the most divisive leaders in our generation to overpower the discretion of a locally elected prosecutor,” Gardner added. ”It is also incredible that at a time when our nation is dealing with a rapidly spreading deadly virus and our State reported a record number of new infections, they are launching these dog-whistle attacks against me. They should be focused on their jobs, and I’ll focus on mine.”

Hawley letter

Hawley's tweet

Hawley’s tweet on Thursday, July 16, 2020.

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