Drugs or alcohol might have played a role in the shooting death of a St. Louis police officer who was allegedly playing a Russian roulette-like game with one of her colleagues, a St. Louis prosecutor said Tuesday.
St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner also said police officers interfered with her investigators after the shooting.
Police say Officer Nathaniel Hendren, 29, shot Officer Katlyn Alix, 24, in his apartment early Thursday in the presence of a third officer. Hendren and Alix were taking turns pointing a revolver loaded with single cartridge at each other, police say.
The third officer, Hendren’s partner, told investigators he urged Hendren and Alix not to play with the firearm, police said in a statement of probable cause. Police have not released the partner’s name.
Hendren was charged a day after the shooting with involuntary manslaughter and armed criminal action.
The officer, who is being held in lieu of a $50,000 cash-only bail, made a brief appearance in court on Tuesday. If convicted, he could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison.
Hendren has been suspended without pay by the department.
Gardner wrote Tuesday that there was “probable cause at the scene that drugs or alcohol may be a contributing factor in a potential crime.” She did not offer any specifics in the letter about the evidence.
Gardner revealed that detail in a letter addressed to Police Commissioner John Hayden Jr. and Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards.
In the same letter, she also complained that St. Louis police officers interfered with her office’s investigators at the hospital after the shooting.
She said police told her investigators that the hospital “would not honor a search warrant to draw blood” from Hendren or his partner.
“I’m sure you are aware that we have a protocol with area hospitals that they will honor our search warrants for blood draws,” Gardner wrote. “This procedure is common in criminal investigations.”
Later, she said, police officials told one of her prosecutors that a sample had been drawn. When an investigator from her office asked if a blood sample was drawn, she said, police responded that a “breath test was taken as well as a urine analysis,” instead of a blood test.
She said her office learned that the tests were taken “under Garrity,” federal rules which protect public employees from being compelled to incriminate themselves during investigations conducted by their employers.
That could prevent the evidence from being used by her prosecutors in their investigation of the shooting.
“Taking the tests under Garrity appears as an obstructionist tactic to prevent us from understanding the state of the officers during the commission of this alleged crime,” Gardner wrote.
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Talmage Newton, Hendren’s defense attorney, said if officers had not followed the Garrity rules, they would have violated Hendren’s and his partner’s constitutional rights.
“Further, Circuit Attorney Gardner is now on record, in writing, that she is willing to violate the Constitution to support these unfounded criminal charges against Officer Hendren by circumventing the law and demanding information from the police department that would violate the United States Constitution,” Newton said in a statement.
“It is clear that Circuit Attorney Gardner cannot be impartial, unbiased or objective in continuing to prosecute these charges, and that the entire investigation is unsalvageable and the prosecution irreversibly tainted due to Circuit Attorney Gardner’s unconstitutional investigation and prosecutorial misconduct.”
Gardner also criticized Hayden for calling the shooting an “accidental discharge” in comments to reporters hours after the incident. Police initially said Hendren had “mishandled” the gun.
“In my opinion, it is completely inappropriate for investigators to approach a crime scene that early in the investigation with a pre-disposed conclusion about the outcome of a case,” she wrote. “It’s particularly troublesome given that the Force Investigative Unit is required to conduct objective investigations of officer-involved shootings.”
Edwards pushed back on Gardner’s assertion.
“Our officers are not obstructionist,” he said. He said it’s the police department’s role to process a crime scene.
“We have to be careful that the prosecutor does not go on scene and direct the collection of evidence, in many instances,” he said.
Police say Hendren shot Alix shortly before 1 a.m. Thursday. Hendren and his partner were on-duty at the time; Alix was off-duty.
Neither Gardner nor police have said why the three officers were at Hendren’s South St. Louis apartment, more than two miles from the district where Hendren and his partner were assigned to patrol.
Police say Hendren emptied the cylinder of a revolver and then put one round back in.
He spun the cylinder, pointed it away and pulled the trigger, police said in the probable cause statement. But the gun did not fire.
Alix then took the gun, pointed it at Hendren and pulled the trigger, police said. Again, it did not fire.
Police said the third officer present, Hendren’s partner, told Hendren and Alix “they were police officers,” and “they shouldn’t be playing with guns.”
As he left the room, police say, he heard a gunshot. Alix was shot in the chest. She died at a nearby hospital a short time later.
Alix entered the St. Louis Police Academy in June 2016. She was commissioned a police officer two years ago.
She served six years in the U.S. Army Reserves, including a year deployed to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Hendren was a former Marine, according to police union spokesman Jeffrey Roorda.
She is survived by her husband, Anthony J. Meyer; parents, Ronald J. Alix, Sr. and Aimee Lyn Wahlers; and siblings, Jessica Durbin, Ronald Alix, Jr., Taylor and Logan Chadwick.
A funeral service is scheduled for Wednesday.