A husband and wife brandished firearms at protesters outside their St. Louis home during a demonstration protesting both police brutality and recent actions by Mayor Lyda Krewson, authorities said Monday.
The incident unfolded at 7:23 p.m. CT on Sunday at the foot of Portland Place in the affluent St. Louis neighborhood of West Central End, officials said.
Police described the armed man, 63, and woman, 61, as “victims” of trespassing and fourth-degree assault.
“The victims stated they were on their property when they heard a loud commotion coming from the street,” the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department said in a statement. “When the victims went to investigate the commotion, they observed a large group of subjects forcefully break an iron gate marked with ‘No Trespassing’ and ‘Private Street’ signs.”
The neighborhood has streets with limited access that are considered private property.
“Once through the gate, the victims advised the group that they were on a private street and trespassing and told them to leave,” the police statement said. “The group began yelling obscenities and threats of harm to both victims. When the victims observed multiple subjects who were armed, they then armed themselves and contacted police.”
Albert Watkins, a lawyer for the couple — husband-and-wife attorneys Mark and Patricia McCloskey — insisted his clients were “in fear of imminent harm.”
“Both Mr. and Mrs. McCloskey acted lawfully on their property which sits on a private gated lane in the City of St. Louis,” Watkins said in a statement to NBC News. “Their actions were borne solely of fear and apprehension, the genesis of which was not race related.”
But Daniel Shular, a freelance photojournalist who was at the protest, said he didn’t see anyone breaking into the neighborhood and instead recalled seeing protesters simply strolling through an open gate.
“I kind of turned around to take some pictures of people coming through the gate, then I turned back around and by then he had his long gun in his hand,” Shular told NBC News. “And the woman came out with a pistol and started pointing it with her finger on the trigger at everybody.”
Shular said “people were just kind of yelling at” the couple, but he couldn’t clearly make out what was said.
“It was just angry sort of … people asking, ‘Why do you have a gun? It’s a peaceful protest!'” Shular said, adding that he didn’t see people yelling at the couple “until they started brandishing guns, then it got heated.”
“I really don’t remember hearing anyone yell any obscenities or anything at them until the man had the gun. He was also yelling before he had a gun in his hand,” Shular continued. “I couldn’t make out anything he said.”
Shular recalled seeing at least one armed protester, but said that’s common in demonstrations around St. Louis.
“At that time I didn’t [see weapons in the crowd at the McCloskey home] but afterwards I did see one gun once everyone made it to the mayor’s house. I saw at least one person with a semi-automatic rifle,” he said. “That’s not super out of the ordinary for the protests here. Most of the handguns are concealed because in Missouri you don’t need a permit to conceal-carry. “
The photographer said protesters kept their distance from the armed couple, staying on the sidewalk.
The attorney for Mark and Patricia McCloskey insisted his clients are supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement and only became fearful for their safety on Sunday when white protesters began to act aggressively.
“The Black Lives Matters movement is here to stay, it is the right message, and it is about time,” said Watkins. “The McCloskeys want to make sure no one thinks less of BLM, its message and the means it is employing to get its message out because of the actions of a few white individuals who tarnished a peaceful protest.”
St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner said Monday that her prosecutors are reviewing the case. But she seemed to find fault with the couple for possibly escalating tensions.
“I am alarmed at the events that occurred over the weekend, where peaceful protestors were met by guns and a violent assault,” Gardner said in a statement. “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.”
Sunday’s confrontation ended with no arrests or injuries, Caldwell said.
Protesters were demonstrating against Mayor Krewson, a West Central End resident, who last week infuriated police reform advocates by releasing names and home addresses of “defund the police” activists.
“Defund the police” supporters believe some taxpayer money should be taken away from local police and redirected to other public safety programs such as mental health and other social services.
Krewson apologized for releasing those names and addresses, and a representative for her office couldn’t be immediately reached for comment on Monday.
The investigation into Sunday night’s confrontation is ongoing and St. Louis police spokesman Evita Caldwell stopped short of clearing the couple of any wrongdoing, telling NBC News: ” As for whether the victims were within their rights, you would need to direct your inquiry to the courts for further.”
Still images and video of the confrontation circulated throughout social media on Sunday night and Monday morning.