Missouri’s top lawyer acknowledged Tuesday his intervention in a high-profile unlawful use of a weapon case involving a St. Louis couple is unusual.
“It doesn’t happen every day,” Attorney General Eric Schmitt told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in an interview in the Capitol.
But, he said his controversial decision to seek to have gun charges against Mark and Patricia McCloskey dismissed is rooted in the state’s long-held interest in the right to bear arms.
“There is a common-law interest if the attorney general feels that the broader interest of Missourians are affected, like the chilling effect that this might have with people exercising their Second Amendment rights,” Schmitt said in the interview.
“I felt it was appropriate that I weigh in,” Schmitt added. “We felt it was important to get it in and make the state’s position known early.”
Republican Gov. Mike Parson appointed Schmitt attorney general after Josh Hawley’s election to the U.S. Senate in 2018.
Schmitt’s decision to try to block St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly M. Gardner’s prosecution of the McCloskey’s has generated scorn.
Rep. Rasheen Aldridge, D-St. Louis, who said he attended the June 28 protest in question, met Schmitt’s legal move with derision, calling it a “political sideshow.”
“The eagerness with which the governor and Attorney General Schmitt attacked Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner for standing up for her constituents’ First Amendment rights is alarming,” Aldridge said.
Schmitt, a Republican, filed a brief Monday hours after Gardner charged the McCloskeys with felony unlawful use of a weapon for displaying guns in their yard as protesters moved through the Central West End to St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson’s house.
Schmitt said the charges should be dismissed under the state’s Castle Doctrine, which gives Missourians broad rights to defend their property.
“This criminal case is extraordinary,” the brief notes. “Based on widely reported facts, the prosecution targets conduct explicitly protected by the U.S. Constitution, the Missouri Constitution, and Missouri statutes setting forth the ‘castle doctrine’ of self-defense.”
Aldridge said Gardner’s decision to charge the McCloskeys is warranted given what he saw that evening.
Two Democrats vying in the Aug. 4 primary to challenge Schmitt also blasted the intervention.
“He asks the court to dismiss a criminal case based upon ‘published reports’ when he did not investigate the case and has not seen all the evidence,” Rich Finneran, a former federal prosecutor, said. “Yet again, he has put his partisan political agenda before the judicial process.”
Elad Gross, a former assistant attorney general, said Schmitt couldn’t move to dismiss charges against a criminal defendant.
“He also apparently doesn’t realize that he was appointed Attorney General, not King of America,” Gross said on Twitter. “I suppose we could change Missouri’s laws to create one statewide prosecutor and eliminate local control, but we vote on those decisions, not just silently cede them to political appointees who want to run for the next big office.”
Aldridge also blasted Parson for portraying the protesters as “some bloodthirsty, rampaging mob.”
“We practiced peaceful civil disobedience and had the threat of violence imposed upon us,” Aldridge said. “His dishonest hypocrisy about the events of that night show he has no interest actual justice, only in exploiting this situation to mobilize his base.”
Auditor Nicole Galloway, a Democrat who is running for governor against Parson, also derided the governor’s response to the McCloskey incident.
“Governor Parson is desperate to change the subject from his stunning failure to lead Missouri through the COVID-19 crisis. He’s desperate to cover for his decades of failure on crime, gun violence, and criminal justice reform. Missouri needs leadership from their governor, not distractions,” Galloway spokesman Eric Slusher said in a statement.
Her campaign did not respond to a question about whether she supported the charges.
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