Bar owner arrested after St. Louis police officer bursts into his business


The owners of a gay bar in St. Louis were getting ready to finally relax on Sunday night after a long day of blasting karaoke and serving colorful cocktails. Then, around 12:30 a.m. on Monday, the owners, who are married and live above the bar, heard a loud crash outside.

They looked out the windows and saw that a St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department vehicle had crashed into the front of their business, Bar:PM, shattering glass and causing extensive damage.

The couple, Chad Morris and James Pence, approached the group of officers who had gathered outside the building, in the Carondelet neighborhood of southeast St. Louis, and asked what had happened. But police offered no answers, and according to bystander video of the episode seen by The New York Times, officers later handcuffed Pence and arrested Morris, claiming they were “creating a disturbance.”

An officer identified in police records as John Pierce accused Mr. Morris of hitting him “in the chest with an open hand,” causing him to lose his balance, according to police records. And a complaint claims that Morris attempted to hit Pierce “with a door as he fled from officers.”

But Mr. Morris's lawyer, Javad M. Khazaeli, said the opposite happened: Mr. Morris did not hit any officers, but an officer wearing a hat hit him.

Mr. Morris was charged with one count of third-degree assault and one count of resisting and interfering with arrest. On Tuesday, he was released from jail and the assault charge was downgraded from a felony to a misdemeanor, according to Khazaeli, who said they planned to fight those charges and evaluate any civil action against the Police Department.

Chad Morris shows bruises on his face after being released from jail.Credit…Chad Morris

A roughly 25-minute video clip of the couple's encounter with police that night does not show Mr. Morris pushing or punching an officer. Pierce, who did not return calls seeking comment, wrote in his report that Morris tried to flee from police in an alley, an allegation Khazaeli said was false.

St. Louis police did not respond to emails and calls seeking comment.

“I feel like the situation has been handled horribly in every way,” Pence said in an interview. He added: “All they had to do was take responsibility, admit they had an accident and handle it differently.”

The police encounter, which sparked outrage in St. Louis, especially among the LGBTQ community, is the latest example of a police department facing intense scrutiny and criticism for escalating a situation.

St. Louis Mayor Tishaura O. Jones, whose 2021 mayoral campaign focused on fixing what she described as an “inefficient and ineffective” police system, said on social media that police interaction in Bar:PM “can break an already fragile trust with law enforcement.”

He added that “this incident is currently under investigation and the officers involved will be held accountable for any and all misconduct committed while on duty.”

Joe Steiger, business manager for the St. Louis Police Officers Association, an officers' union, declined to comment Wednesday.

Pence said she was at home above the bar Sunday night as her husband and the bar manager finished cleaning the downstairs and prepared to leave.

Then, he heard a loud bang that shook the building.

“That's when I came down and thought, 'What the hell?'” Pence said.

Pence said he asked the officer in the crashed vehicle what happened, and the officer, whose name has not been identified by the department, responded, “I swerved to lose a dog.”

A video which captures the moment the police vehicle crashed into Bar:PM shows him swerving left towards the bar as he passes a vehicle parked parallel to his right.

Bystander video shared by Khazaeli shows an officer asking Pence if he has identification. Pence, looking incredulous, says officials shouldn't ask him to provide that.

After an officer handcuffs Mr. Pence, the bystander recording the interaction asks the officers what crime Mr. Pence is committing.

“He's obviously creating a disturbance,” the officer says.

The bystander then tells the officer not to come any closer. The officer responds, “How about you don't tell me what to do?” and then calls the passerby a “clown.”

As Mr. Morris approaches the scene, she asks why her husband is handcuffed, as the video shows.

Morris eventually walks down an alley to cool off, his attorney said, and several officers follow him.

The bystander video does not show what happened in the alley.

After several minutes, Mr. Pence is heard saying on the video that the officers are beating her husband in the alley.

The video then shows Mr. Morris walking out of the alley in handcuffs, his shirt in tatters, and with two officers behind him.

Morris says in the video that an officer punched him in the “left side of his eye.” A photograph of him taken on Tuesday shows his left eye bruised and swollen.

Before the video ends, Mr. Morris is shown being handcuffed and put into the back of a police van.

“The way this escalated because of a traffic incident is crazy,” Khazaeli said.

Pence said that after the experience, he felt that the police had tried to “turn the victim into a criminal.”

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