A controversy in Missouri is brewing after a St. Louis police officer crashed a marked SUV into a gay bar and arrested one of the co-owners — a married gay couple — who had become upset.
Now, an attorney for the men says he wants the charges dropped and all evidence preserved, and he’s considering a lawsuit for his clients. Prosecutors reduced the felony counts for assault to a misdemeanor.
Javad Khazaeli, a St. Louis civil rights attorney, spoke with The Advocate on Tuesday about the contentious incident at Bar:PM, an LGBTQ+ bar in St. Louis, involving local police officers. He represents the couple, Chad Morris and James Pence.
St. Louis mayor reacts
St. Louis Mayor Tishaura O. Jones took to social media on Tuesday evening to show support for the bar.
“Incidents like these can break an already fragile trust with law enforcement,” Jones wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter. “This incident is under investigation and the officers involved will be held accountable for any and all misconduct.”
St. Louis Aldermanic President Megan Green also posted on X calling for the immediate release of dash and body camera footage from the incident and for Morris’ charges to be dropped.
On Monday morning, two St. Louis City probation officers, a 32-year-old man and a 22-year-old man, crashed their police SUV into the bar, according to a police spokesperson.
After the owners confronted the officers, both were detained, and one was arrested.
Khazaeli questioned the changing narratives of the police. Initially, officers claimed they swerved to avoid a dog, but later said it was to avoid a parked car.
“Preliminary investigation revealed (the police car was) traveling northbound…when (the driving officer) believed he was traveling too close to a parked car and attempted to correct himself,” the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department said in a statement to The Advocate.
“This action caused (the officer) to lose control of his vehicle and crash into the… building,” the spokesperson added.
Khazaeli pointed to video evidence suggesting these explanations might be inaccurate.
“Have you seen the video? I mean, I guess there’s a car kind of off to the side, but it doesn’t seem like they’re even close to hitting it,” he said.
The video shows a white police SUV traveling at high speed at night on an empty street before suddenly swerving and crashing into a building on the opposite side of the street. The car doesn’t have an emergency light on.
“The police department has made no statements. They haven’t told us if the officers were drug tested or alcohol tested,” he said, highlighting a lack of transparency in the aftermath of the incident. He added that this issue is particularly pertinent in St. Louis, where there have been multiple cases of officers being found drunk while on duty.
“It’s shocking because this should never happen to anybody. But it’s not surprising because this is one more act in a long string of malfeasance by the police department,” he said.
Police arrest bar co-owner
Morris and Pence were both detained without cause during the incident, he said, describing the police’s approach as aggressive, including an officer threatening to leave the scene without filing a report unless Pence showed his ID.
When Pence questioned this, he was arrested for allegedly causing a disturbance, Khazeali said.
Morris, who inquired about his husband’s arrest, was later apprehended after attempting to leave the area and was allegedly beaten by the police.
Khazaeli detailed Morris’s injuries, including a black eye and scratches, and criticized the handling of his arrest.
Morris was charged with third-degree assault against a special victim and resisting or interfering with an arrest, a St. Louis Metropolitan Police spokesperson said.
Khazaeli confirmed that he had been in contact with authorities, who subsequently agreed to release Morris on his own recognizance and reduced the counts from a felony to a misdemeanor.
Next steps, community support
Regarding the potential for legal action, Khazaeli was clear about his intentions.
“Our first priority is to get rid of this criminal suit, but yes, we are contemplating a lawsuit because what happened to our client was both outrageous and illegal,” he said.
In discussing the damage to Bar: PM, Khazaeli noted the community’s quick response to help.
“The whole left side of the bar, the window, and all the brick and everything has been messed up. But the inside, because a lot of people came just out of the woodwork to help, the inside was cleaned up very nicely, and it’s been boarded up,” he said.
“The bar is opening tonight, and people are coming to the bar to show their support,” Khazaeli said.
Khazaeli also discussed the immediate steps being taken in response to the incident.
“Today, we’ve sent out letters to the police department and the fire department telling them that they need to preserve all videos, black boxes, everything that they have,” he revealed.
Khazaeli noted the unique way the LGBTQ+ community rallied around Bar: PM.
“I think the term that (my client) used was the ‘gaymunity’ showed up to help him,” Khazaeli said.
This article originally appeared on Advocate.com, and is shared here as part of an LGBTQ+ community exchange between Q Voice News and Equal Pride.