St. Louis chief angered by accusations of mishandling ‘Russian roulette’ case
The St. Louis police chief spoke publicly about the shooting for the first time since Officer Katlyn Alix’s death
ST. LOUIS — The St. Louis prosecutor’s criticism of how police investigated a male officer’s alleged Russian roulette-style fatal shooting of a female colleague drew an angry response Thursday from Police Chief John Hayden.
Hayden, speaking at a news conference, raised his voice and pounded his fist in responding to a letter Monday from Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner. In it, she questioned whether police tried to block drug and alcohol testing of two male officers after the shooting, and said police were too quick to initially characterize it as an accident.
The male officers were on-duty but for unexplained reasons at one of their apartments in the early hours of Jan. 24. Officer Katlyn Alix, who was off-duty, was there, too.
Prosecutors say Officer Nathaniel Hendren and Alix, 24, were playing a deadly game of pointing a gun loaded with one bullet at each other and pulling the trigger. Twice the gun didn’t go off, but the third time, Hendren pulled the trigger and Alix was shot in the chest, charging documents said.
Hendren, 29, is charged with involuntary manslaughter and armed criminal action. In addition, an internal police misconduct report provided to The Associated Press by police accuses Hendren and his male co-worker, Patrick Riordan, of drinking on duty at the time of Alix’s death, in violation of department policy. The document also alleges that Hendren “recklessly discharged a firearm resulting in the death of another Officer.”
A message seeking comment from Hendren’s attorney was not immediately returned. Riordan’s attorney, James Towey, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which first obtained the document, that Riordan told investigators he had a “few sips of a beer,” but a breath test came up “all zeroes.”
Riordan has not been charged with a crime.
Hendren was released from jail Thursday after a judge agreed to a change allowing him to post $10,000, rather than the original $50,000 bond. Stipulations require him to remain under house arrest and to surrender guns and his passport.
Hayden spoke publicly about the shooting for the first time since immediately after Alix’s death. He declined to address details of the shooting, saying he didn’t want to jeopardize the investigation or the prosecution.
Hayden said his initial phrasing of the shooting as an accident wasn’t meant to imply conclusions had been drawn.
“I later learned that the circumstances surrounding the shooting were much more reckless and dangerous than what I originally understood,” he said.
He was particularly angered by Gardner’s accusation that officers tried to obstruct drug and alcohol testing of the male officers, calling the claim “unwarranted, certainly untimely and absolutely irresponsible.”
Gardner responded in a statement that stood by her concerns.
“It is time to focus our efforts on working together to seek the truth of this matter, so we can get justice for Katlyn Alix and the community,” Gardner said.
Gardner and Hayden have had a testy relationship for several months. Last year, she developed an “exclusion list” of 28 officers who won’t be permitted as primary witnesses in criminal cases. She has cited credibility concerns but hasn’t said specifically what prompted the list.
After Alix’s death, Gardner immediately enlisted the Missouri State Highway Patrol to perform an investigation simultaneous to the police investigation. A day later, Hendren was charged.
And on Wednesday, Gardner charged two officers in the shooting of a bar patron that occurred in April. Police had sought charges against the patron in May, but Gardner declined.
Many questions remain unanswered in Alix’s death. Why were the on-duty officers at the apartment? How did Hendren get the black eye he’s pictured with in his mug shot? How could two military veterans with vast firearms training allegedly be so careless with a gun?
That last question clearly perplexed Circuit Judge David Roither. At Hendren’s bond hearing, the judge noted that he is an avid hunter who often teaches others about the sport.
“You do not point a muzzle at anything you don’t intend to shoot,” Roither said.
Hendren’s attorney, Talmage E. Newton IV, said after the hearing that people shouldn’t make judgments until all of the facts are out. He declined to elaborate.
The judge also heard emotional statements from Alix’s husband, Anthony Meyer, and her sister, Jessica Durbin. Meyer spoke so softly it wasn’t audible to the large crowd in the courtroom, which included several relatives of both Alix and Hendren as well as police officers.
Durbin said she lost her best friend. “There is a huge hole in my heart,” she said.
Assistant Circuit Attorney Rachel Smith told the judge that Hendren’s actions were “an outrageous betrayal of public trust.”