Police chiefs defend protester response in St. Louis City and County

Both the St. Louis City and St. Louis County Police Departments have been criticized by some for their tactics during some of the recent protests.

CLAYTON, MO. - In interviews with 5 On Your Side in Clayton on Thursday, St. Louis Metropolitan Police Interim Chief Lawrence O'Toole and St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar addressed claims of excessive force, police injuries, growing overtime bills and the emotional toll of nearly two weeks of civil unrest.

Among the incidents being scrutinized are last Saturday's Galleria protest, where some protesters say police used unnecessary force such as body slamming people to the pavement. 5 On Your Side showed Chief Belmar news video of a man being surrounded by several police officers, picked up off his feet, and slammed to the Galleria parking lot.

"That individual had already been told he was under arrest, so at that point, that individual has an obligation to submit," said Belmar, "and the bottom line is that if somebody refuses to be arrested then the law enforcement officer has an obligation to effect that arrest. Unfortunately, when that happens, it's not pretty."

Belmar was asked if he could understand how a video like that viewed by the public could feed into the narrative that police may have overreacted during that specific incident.

"I understand that, and again, that's why we're going to take a look at all of our use of forces," said Belmar.

Another criticism from some Galleria protesters that they never heard a warning to disperse. How did police communicate their warning in a loud, crowded, and chaotic mall?

"Once you get inside of a dwelling like that, then the noise level goes up. Are you going to be able to hear those? Those warnings were given," said Belmar.

Two documentary filmmakers from Kansas City, Drew and Jennifer Burbridge, filed a civil rights lawsuit Tuesday alleging St. Louis police violated their first amendment rights on Sept. 17 in downtown St. Louis. The suit alleges police interfered with their right to record police officers in public places and used excessive force to arrest them. St. Louis interim chief Lawrence O'Toole said because of the pending litigation, he is limited in responding.

"Throughout this entire incident, what we want is what everybody else wants. We want the truth," said O'Toole. "And so the investigations will be conducted and we're going to find out the truth and if it goes to court like this, to litigation, we'll find out more details then."

O'Toole was asked about city police chanting "Whose streets? Our streets" to protesters who had been using the same chant.

"It never should have happened and the corrective action has been taken that it won't happen and it won't be tolerated," he said

Among city and county police and other law enforcement there have been 35 protest-related injuries, with city police suffering 30 injuries.

"We have a sergeant who suffered a pretty severe concussion. He's been in the hospital two separate times," said O'Toole. "We have an officer with a dislocated shoulder. We have two officers who were struck with bricks or rocks of some sort."

Nearly two weeks of protests have been costly. O'Toole said the overtime budget for city police has reached $2.8 million dollars. Belmar said the overtime tab in St. Louis County is $920,000. 

There is also an emotional cost for police and their families. Both chiefs said their officers have a difficult job to perform especially during day after day of civil unrest.

"This can take an emotional toll on police officers. We recognize that," said Belmar. "When it happens we try to get officers in a position where they can be removed from that arena."

FULL INTERVIEW: St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar

FULL INTERVIEW: St. Louis Metropolitan Police Interim Chief Lawrence O'Toole

© 2017 KSDK-TV


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