St. Ann police came under fire after a viral video on May 7 showed a white officer breaking a car window with his elbow and then pulling a young African-American man through broken glass shards – while the people filming the incident yelled, “That’s abuse.”
The white couple who filmed and posted the video to Facebook wrote, “If that was my child, I would hope someone would take the time to care enough to try to protect them.”
St. Ann Police Chief Aaron Jimenez immediately backed his officer, who The American has identified as Detective Brandon Means, saying that the passenger was refusing to get out of the car and could have had a gun.
“If the public was able to see before and after, they’d see [the passenger] reaching under the seat,” Jimenez told The American.
“[Means] used self-restraint, even though he would have been justified to shoot him even before that video started. The minute that [the passenger’s] hands go up, the video starts. He used the perfect amount of force to effect that arrest.”
The arrest came at the end of a car pursuit that began in St. Peters and went through multiple jurisdictions before coming through St. Ann, Jimenez said. The arrest of the three individuals took place at an underpass on Interstate 170 and Natural Bridge. Their names have not been released, pending their warrant applications, he said.
The female driver faces felony charges for resisting arrest by flight, as well as property damage and several other serious traffic offenses, Jimenez said. She allegedly sideswiped a tractor trailer, breaking off the passenger side mirror, as well as putting numerous people in danger with her reckless driving, he said. The passenger who was dragged through the window faces charges of failure to comply, resisting arrest and possession of drug paraphernalia. Jimenez said he was allegedly trying to hide a “crack pipe” under the seat.
The driver immediately got out of the car and was handcuffed, the police chief said. The passenger could have gotten out of the car as well, Jimenez said. However, people who viewed the video said his door was too close to the guardrail to open, and his hands were up when the officer approached the window. To this, Jimenez said, “All he had to do was open his window.” The man in the backseat got out of the car and was handcuffed. He only faces charges of possession of drug paraphernalia.
The three individuals are not currently in jail. St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell requires that the police report be completed before a warrant application can be processed, which is a new policy Bell implemented, Jimenez said. After the warrant is issued, then notifications will be sent to their homes, and the individuals can either turn themselves in or be arrested, Jimenez said. Bell could process the warrants with a probable cause statement, Jimenez said, but he wants the entire police report “to make sure they are happy with what they are reading, which is fair.”
The American asked Bell’s office about the new policy and this case.
“Here, we want all the information before we make a decision on who or what to charge,” Sam Alton, Bell’s chief of staff, said in an email statement. “In certain cases, given the gravity of the facts or risk(s) and/or the nature of the charges we will rely on probable cause statements; however, given the facts of this case we are waiting on the full reports.”
It further said that, under the circumstances, “there is nothing unusual about their release while we wait for and evaluate the evidence.”
‘We’re not cowboys’
The May 7 incident comes a month after the St. Louis Post-Dispatch released an analysis of police chases in the region. It found that in the last two years, there has been about one St. Ann police chase a week, and a related crash about once every two weeks, according to police records.
The Post-Dispatch reported that the St. Ann Police Department serves a population of about 14,000 residents and employs 54 officers (the website states 38 sworn officers and 13 civilians), but it had more chases last year than the St. Louis County Police Department’s 950 officers and nearly as many as 1,200 officers with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department.
“Since 2009, two people have died and least 42 have been injured in St. Ann pursuit crashes, according to an analysis of reporting in the Post-Dispatch and other media,” the article states. “Those injured include 11 drivers fleeing police and eight passengers in the fleeing vehicles, but also 17 innocent bystanders and six St. Ann police officers.”
Jimenez said that although he believes the article is fair, there was “one major thing left out.” The report did not take into account the number of guns and dangerous drugs taken from vehicles and off the streets, he told The American.
“We’re not hiding or denying the amount of pursuits,” he said. “We are not cowboys. There were many multiple pursuits that were terminated. We want to make sure that our visitors and our residents feel secure. They are not being carjacked, robbed or murdered.”
City Administrator Matt Conley did not feel the report was fair, in part because it stated that the St. Ann police will pursue for minor offenses such as expired plates or speeding. While that was true previously, Conley said that the police department changed the pursuit policy on January 1 to only allow its officers to engage in a chase for felonies, not for traffic offenses.
“The Post-Dispatch has a problem with the St. Ann Police Department because we actually enforce the law and hold people accountable,” Conley said. “We comply with state law. The State of Missouri allows police officers to pursue criminals, and that’s what we did.”
The Coalition Against Police Crimes and Repression (CAPCR) believes those pursuits come with a dangerous cost.
“St. Ann continues to conduct high-speed adrenaline-fueled chases that endanger the public,” according to a CAPCR statement, “and result in unnecessarily violent conclusions.”
Chase you to Mexico
On April 9, Brandon Means, the detective who broke the car window, shared a post from an African-American woman on his personal Facebook page that stated, “St. Ann will chase yo a-- to Mexico they do not care.”
His Facebook friends thought it was funny.
Although it didn’t reference any specific event, the message was posted on the same day that another St. Ann police chase occurred. It ended at the bank parking lot at Natural Bridge and Kingshighway, which Ferguson activist Elizabeth Vega witnessed and described on Facebook as a white male being beaten until he was unconscious.
When The American asked Jimenez about the event, he said that it involved a drug dealer that had been long disturbing a neighborhood. The man fled when police tried to arrest him at a drug house, hit another car and injured a woman during the chase, Jimenez said. The department’s internal investigation department looked into the case and recently cleared the officers of any wrongdoing, Jimenez said.
The department received no complaints regarding the incident, he said, but he encouraged people to do so if they witnessed the arrest.
“If they are not comfortable coming in here, I would certainly hope that they would take to the FBI and give them that and let them start their own investigation,” Jimenez said.
Regarding Means’ Facebook post, Jimenez said he was upset about it because it was “exactly the behavior” that makes it hard for the department to address its public image – and not be labeled as “a bunch of cowboys.”
And, Jimenez said, “that isn’t funny.”