The parents of a St. Louis police officer killed by another officer in a shooting police said was preceded by the two playing with a revolver have hired attorneys who say there haven’t been enough answers in the case and have pledged to launch their own inquiry.
A funeral was held for Officer Katlyn Alix, 24, on Wednesday, almost a week after she was allegedly shot in the chest by another police officer, Nathaniel Hendren, 29, at his apartment. Hendren is charged with involuntary manslaughter and armed criminal action.
"I'm still waiting for the answers,” Alix’s mother said Wednesday at a news conference with their attorneys in St. Louis.
This week the prosecutor, Circuit Attorney Kimberly M. Gardner, sent a letter to the city's police chief and the head of the Department of Public Safety raising questions about how evidence was collected after the early morning shooting in Hendren's apartment, which officials said occurred as Hendren and another officer were on-duty and Alix was off-duty.
In the letter dated Monday, Gardner wrote that that "there was probable cause at the scene that drugs or alcohol may be a contributing factor in a potential crime," that her office requested blood draws from the officers but that police said the hospital would not honor her office's search warrant to draw blood, and the prosecutor wrote "this procedure is common in criminal investigations."
Instead, Gardner wrote that "my team was told that a breath test was taken as well as a urine analysis in lieu of the more exact blood specimen test," and that those samples were collected by the police Internal Affairs under a court decision called Garrity. Garrity protects officers from self-incrimination and could affect what information is able to be used in criminal cases.
Gardner said the way they were collected "appears as an obstructionist tactic to prevent us from understanding the state of the officers during the commission of this alleged crime." Gardner also suggested that police were too quick to call the shooting of Alix accidental.
Susan Ryan, a spokeswoman for the Circuit Attorney’s office, said Wednesday they have not been provided the results of the tests yet.
Jimmie Edwards, director of the St. Louis Department of Public Safety, said in an interview with reporters on Tuesday that "our officers are not obstructionists" and that police process scenes of crimes and they make the decisions with respect to what evidence to collect, and provide that evidence to the prosecutor’s office.
"To suggest that an officer is engaged in any obstruction of justice is ludicrous," Edwards said.
He said urine tests are often used in cases and under department policies are collected "within a very definite and finite period of time." He said the court case Garrity "does not prevent us from testing under our policy."
A request for comment on Gardner's letter that was sent to a police department spokesperson on Tuesday has not been returned.
Hendren's attorney, Talmage E. Newton IV, has said "There is no evidence, nor will there ever be, that this was anything more than a tragic accident. Nate Hendren is devastated by the loss of Katlyn Alix."
Newton said in a statement Tuesday about Gardner’s letter to police that "Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner’s own words show that not only did she rush to judgment in charging Officer Nathaniel Hendren with a crime just one day after Officer Alix's death, but that she did so without gathering facts or evidence in a thorough, objective or legal way."
Attorneys for Alix's family said they are not making any determinations based on news reports, and have not made a decision about whether a civil matter will be pursued in the case. They have requested that evidence and other information be preserved.
"We need to sort through the fact and the fiction, and what’s rumor and what’s real," attorney Scott Rosenblum said. "And we intend to do that."
"The answers will go a long way. And right now, there’s not enough and there hasn’t been enough answers to this family's questions. And that’s the most important thing," he said. "Where that takes us, I don’t think we can say at this point, but we certainly will get to the bottom of it."
Alix’s father, Ron Alix, said that the family wants to know what happened. He said he wants his daughter remembered as "a beautiful girl" and that "she'd walk into the room and light it up."
"This world lost a lot," he said. "When we lost Katie, we lost a lot."
"We're going to miss her so much. I don't — I don’t know what else I can say,” Ron Alix said.
"Katie should be in our hearts every day," he said. "Every minute."