Felony charges have been filed against a St. Louis couple who pointed guns at protesters marching past their home last month in an episode that was captured on video and drew the attention of a divided nation, including President Donald Trump.
The couple, Mark and Patricia McCloskey, were charged Monday by the Circuit Attorney’s Office in St. Louis with unlawful use of a weapon, exhibiting. The charge is a Class E felony that carries a possible penalty of up to four years in prison.
The circuit attorney in St. Louis, Kimberly M. Gardner, said the couple created a dangerous situation involving “peaceful, unarmed protesters.”
“It is illegal to wave weapons in a threatening manner at those participating in nonviolent protest,” she said in a statement.
Gardner, a Democrat, said she would not seek jail time for the couple were they to be convicted, but rather would seek to place them in a diversion program, like community service.
Late Monday night, the attorney general of Missouri, Eric Schmitt, a Republican, filed a motion to have the charges against the McCloskeys dismissed, saying in a statement that state law “provides broad rights to Missourians who are protecting their property and lives from those who wish to do them harm.”
In a statement, the couple’s lawyer, Joel J. Schwartz, called the charges “disheartening.” He said that his clients, who are personal injury lawyers, support freedom of speech.
“However,” he added that it “must be balanced with the Second Amendment and Missouri law, which entitle each of us to protect our home and family from potential threats.”
The governor of Missouri, Mike Parson, a Republican, has come to the couple’s defense, saying in a radio interview that he would most likely pardon them and that “I don’t think they’re going to spend any time in jail.”
The couple recently appeared at a virtual campaign event for Trump, who said last week that prosecution of the couple was “a disgrace.”
Asked about Parson’s comment about a possible pardon for the couple if they are convicted, Gardner said, “Right now, it’s still an open case so there’s been no disposition to pardon.”
“I think that’s a waste of taxpayer dollars to look at this issue when there has not been a final disposition,” she added.
Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, a Republican, called for a civil rights investigation into Gardner last week, contending that the pending case “is a politically motivated attempt to punish this family for exercising their Second Amendment rights.”
The Circuit Attorney’s Office responded to Hawley’s call on Twitter, saying that it was baseless and that Gardner would not be bullied by a U.S. senator or anyone else.
Gardner said Monday that the call for a Justice Department inquiry was a “failed distraction” by leadership, from the White House down to the governor, from the coronavirus pandemic.
A spokeswoman for the Justice Department, who previously said it was reviewing the senator’s request, did not immediately return a call Monday night seeking comment.
On June 28, protesters marched past the McCloskeys’ home, which is on a private street, on their way to the home of Mayor Lyda Krewson, a Democrat, who lives nearby. Krewson had angered local residents after she read the names and addresses of people who said the police should be defunded on Facebook Live.
As demonstrators passed the house, Mark McCloskey, 63, held a semi-automatic rifle and Patricia McCloskey, 61, held a semi-automatic handgun, according to the complaint and probable cause statement from the prosecutor’s office.
Both pointed their weapons at the protesters, the prosecutor’s office said. Patricia McCloskey’s finger was “on the trigger” and she acted with an “excited demeanor,” the office noted.
Mark McCloskey has said he and his wife feared for their lives. He said in an interview last month with KSDK, a local television station, “I really thought it was storming the Bastille, that we would be dead and the house would be burned and there was nothing we could do about it.”
He continued: “It was a big crowd and they were aggressive, wearing body armor and screaming at us and threatening to harm us. And how they were going to be living in our house after they kill us.”
In the interview, Mark McCloskey said he supported the Black Lives Matter movement.
The McCloskeys have a long history of conflict with others over private property, according to The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which reviewed public records for a report on the couple last week.