My stepdaughter’s South Side apartment wasn’t huge, but it was a nice little place, a second-floor walk-up where I would roll on the floor with the grandkids in the small front room with the bay window and the decorative fireplace that had burned coal in the early 20th century, when the two-flat was built. The kids would occasionally horrify their mother by flattening cardboard boxes and sledding down the steep stairs to the first floor landing. I remember the place mostly because it echoed with the laughter of the kids chasing each other.
She moved out over a year ago. The neighbor told me a young guy named Nate had moved in. A nice guy, she said, always very pleasant, although she said he would have friends from work over late at night. She said there was always thumping and noise from the apartment, and she would joke to herself that they were either actively playing video games or having orgies, but she never thought too much about it.
Now, that apartment where I roughhoused with the grandkids is a crime scene, the front room where they would play pile on Papa splattered with blood soaked into the hardwood floor. Nate was St. Louis Police Officer Nathaniel Hendren, and the apartment was where he allegedly shot and killed St. Louis Police Officer Katlyn Alix in what police claim was a game of Russian Roulette.
When I first heard about it, three things went through my mind almost simultaneously. I felt sad for the dead young officer’s family. I felt angry—maybe irrationally—that the apartment where I’d played with my grandson and granddaughter had become a killing scene. And I felt amazement after hearing the police department’s explanation about the Russian Roulette variant where, instead of putting a single round in a revolver, spinning the cylinder, pointing it at your own head, pulling the trigger, you took turns either pointing the gun at someone else, or having it pointed at you.
As I recall, I said something to my wife along the lines of, “What kind of effing psychos are the city cops hiring? This ain’t crazy. They blew past crazy at the last effing off-ramp.”
And then the wheels began to come off the story. The first change was when the St. Louis Police initial story about this being an “unfortunate accident” changed to “this was a psychotic parlor game from an outtake of one of the ‘Halloween’ flicks.” Officer Alix’s family has hinted that they’re not sure that’s what actually happened. It’s probably a safe bet that most St. Louisans are similarly skeptical.
Think about it logically. If two St. Louis Police Officers—Hendren and Alix--passed psychological exams to become cops, and were still unstable enough to aim a revolver at one another and repeatedly pull the trigger, then you have to wonder how many city officers who passed that very same psychological screening are walking around with hockey masks and chainsaws in their trunks. But if that’s not what happened, what did? And if that’s not what happened, who comes up with Russian Roulette as a cover story?
Then, there’s the whole issue of officers leaving their assigned patrol areas while on duty. Both Officer Hendren and his partner, Officer Patrick Riorden, drove in a patrol car to Hendren’s apartment sometime around midnight. Both were in the middle of their shifts. The apartment isn’t even in same police District where they work. Then, it turned out many/most city cop cars aren’t equipped with GPS police dispatchers can access. So most of the time, they have no idea exactly where patrol cars in real time because, of course, it’s 1895 and no one’s invented a device to track horse-drawn patrol wagons.
The, there’s the internal disciplinary document obtained by the Post-Dispatch charging that Hendren and Riorden “…consumed alcoholic beverages while on duty.” Riorden’s lawyer denies his client was drinking. Hendren’s lawyer denies they were snorting cocaine. These kinds of denials don’t exactly inspire confidence, especially when coupled with Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner’s letter to Chief Hayden saying that there was “…probable cause at the scene that drugs or alcohol may be a contributing factor.”
Then we’re back to the initial claim that the shooting was somehow accidental. Before Circuit Court Judge David Roither agreed to let Hendren out on bail as he awaits trial for involuntary manslaughter, the judge made it clear from the bench, repeatedly, that there was no way the killing of Officer Alix was accidental, and that each step of the alleged Russian Roulette was done on purpose. If that, indeed, is what happened.
Then there’s Circuit Attorney Gardner’s letter, charging that police are trying to obstruct her investigation, that they wouldn’t allow drug and alcohol tests at the apartment, tried to stop the tests at the hospital, and that no blood tests were ever taken. Police Chief John Hayden has angrily denied any obstruction.
But this involves issues bigger than three officers. One cop killed another cop. While on duty. Possibly with booze involved. While on duty. At an officer’s apartment outside their patrol area. While on duty. Allegedly plying a twisted invitation-to-homicide game. While on duty.
Link that to the federal indictments of four city cops for beating a black undercover cop, to a raft of civil lawsuits for brutality following the Jason Stockley protests, to the two officers charged with shooting a 21 year-old outside a bar, to the 28 officers who are no longer allowed to bring cases to court because of alleged lying, and you have a major crisis in the city police department, a culture of violence, and lying, and ignoring rules, while the city’s violent crime rate rises and city police only make arrests in half of the city’s murders.
It’s a toxic, ugly culture that managed to ooze its way into an apartment where small children used to laugh.