ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – It was the night of the big sweep.
The night police chanted, “Whose streets? Our streets!” — the night they arrested more than 120 Jason Stockley verdict protesters downtown, after some broke windows or pushed over sidewalk planters.
Some of those arrested claim they were blocks away from any vandalism, yet corralled by riot police into a formation they couldn’t leave, and pepper-sprayed before being zip-tied and arrested.
The aldermanic Public Safety Committee is asking questions about that night, as police Mjr. Mary Warnecke appeared to discuss the department’s policies on the use of force.
Alderman Jeffrey Boyd says it appears the police went too far, even arresting one of their own undercover officers.
“It looks like maybe they’ve been overly zealous,” said alderman Jeffrey Boyd. “I am very disturbed that an undercover police officer was mistreated, but it speaks volumes.”
Warnecke, who oversees the Police Bureau of Professional Standards, told the committee that the pepper-spraying of protesters should only happen under certain conditions.
“They should only be used when certain things apply,” Warnecke said. “When a commander on the scene has authorized the use of that. OK? We’ve given orders to disperse, and we have criminal acts occurring.”
Warnecke was also asked about reports of police “kettling” the crowd into a herd from which they could not escape.
“We have to give folks the means to leave if it is an unlawful protest, and it is an unlawful gathering that has turned violent and criminal,” she said. “Then we need to make announcements.”
Warnecke told the committee that she was not there the night of the big sweep, but says the department is doing a complete review of recent events to determine if police acted in accordance with department policy.
The Public Safety Committee also asked her questions about the department’s deadly force policy, and whether the police can objectively investigate members of their own department.
Warnecke says the Force Investigate Unit, comprised of five police department members, can conduct a fair and impartial review to determine whether officers involved in the use of force broke any laws.
She noted that the department has reviewed 37 cases since the unit was activated a few years ago.
Five of the cases have gone through a subsequent review by the Circuit Attorney’s office, and the remaining 32 are still awaiting a conclusion from the Circuit Attorney, Warnecke said.
Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, who attended the meeting but did not testify, says she wants an independent unit in her office to take the lead investigating police force cases, so that the public will have more confidence in the outcome.
Gardner is expected to testify before the committee in the near future.