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The Missouri Gun-Toting Lawyers Are Screwed

And rightfully so.
by Jim Swift
June 29, 2020
The Missouri Gun-Toting Lawyers Are Screwed
(Screenshot from video of the incident / Portland Place Archival image public domain)

Yesterday, a protest in Saint Louis resulted in a moment that gave birth to a million memes, when a couple living on the path of the protest came out of their house brandishing firearms, even pointing them at protesters.

The protesters were going to the home of Mayor Lyda Krewson—a house in a series of private communities in the Central West End neighborhood of Saint Louis. It’s where all the rich people in the actual city limits live, adjacent to Washington University and the expansive Forest Park. The streets are blocked off with gates and there are nondescript entrances for your car and a lot of confusing alleyways. It’s an old-school couple of HOAs with enormous mansions. One of my old business school professors lived just a few houses down Westminster Place from the house of now-Mayor Krewson.

Before we talk about the incident, two bits of Westminster Place trivia.

First, the Saint Louis University TKE house (my college fraternity) was on Westminster before the chapter lost it as a result of the things fraternities do to lose their house. Shocker, the guys who brought The Grateful Dead to homecoming in 1971 were a wild bunch. (I even have a Westminster Pl. street sign in my home office, which I acquired after somebody hit the sign with a car in the early aughts.)

Second, an equally culturally elevated bit of trivia: T.S. Eliot once lived at  4446 Westminster Place as a teenager.

So that’s where the mayor lives. This is a different street from where the McCloskeys, the gun-toting personal injury lawyers, live. It’s about two blocks away. The McCloskeys live on Portland Place, which is even richer. They don’t even like people walking down their street. The mayor’s street? You can walk on the sidewalks. Portland Place? Not so much.

I know because I lived two blocks away for two years during college. And sometimes when I wandered home from a social event nearby, I’d take that route. They have off-duty police there and one night I got stopped with a fraternity brother of mine who is not white. I showed the police officer my driver’s license and made the point that I’d be a really dumb criminal to case joints for a robbery two blocks from where I live.

We were let go with a warning and were told that we could have been arrested for trespassing.

With that out of the way, a brief background leading up to yesterday’s incident:

  • In recent days a number of protesters submitted letters to St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson requesting that she reform the city’s police department.
  • On Friday Mayor Krewson read aloud—on a public broadcast—the names and addresses of some constituents who had sent her those letters.
  • This led some people in the city to argue that she should resign, since she was all but inviting retaliation against people who had engaged city government in good faith.
  • On Sunday, a group of people marched around Mayor Krewson’s home in protest of her broadcasting the home addresses of people requesting police reform.
  • These protesters marched past the home of Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the wealthy personal injury attorneys who live on Portland Place.
  • The McCloskeys came out of their house and pointed guns at the assembled protesters.

You really have to see the video, if only for the amazing display of muzzle discipline.
And just like that, the McCloskeys became internet famous.

But while everyone is retreating to their corners, let’s dig a little deeper into what’s really going on here.

Did the McCloskeys commit a crime?

That’s up to Missouri’s judicial system to decide, but as the law is written, it appears they may have. Section 571.030(4) of the Revised Statutes of Missouri states that anyone who “exhibits, in the presence of one or more persons, any weapon readily capable of lethal use in an angry or threatening manner” has “commit[ed] the offense of unlawful use of weapons.”

Mr. McCloskey is wielding a variant of the AR-15 rifle, and Mrs. McCloskey has what appears to be a Walther pistol.

As for the first part of the statute: Were these guns loaded? No one other than the McCloskeys knows. It is possible that if they are charged, the McCloskeys could argue that the guns were unloaded and that they were thus not “readily capable of lethal use.” After all, these are clever trial lawyers!

But as to the second part, a reasonable person could conclude that the weapons were being brandished in an angry or threatening manner.

Look closely and you’ll see that Mrs. McCloskey’s finger is on the trigger and she’s pointing her weapon at protesters. (Basic gun-safety protocols say that you don’t point a gun at anything or anyone you don’t intend to shoot and you don’t put your finger on the trigger until you’re ready to fire.) I know that photos can be misleading, and the Black Lives Bad / Orange Man Good contingent might doubt it, so let’s zoom out. You can see she’s pointing her weapon at a guy with a microphone.

There are other images, too.

Is this private property?

Yes, this is a private community. Mr. McCloskey tells KSDK that “There is nothing public in Portland Place. Being inside that gate is like being in my living room.” Except that’s not true at all. Members of that community are not empowered to enforce trespass laws by pointing guns at unarmed people. This is why you call the police.

Did the McCloskeys call the police? (Editor’s note: Yes, though it’s unclear when they called the police and what the circumstances were when they did so.)

Crimes committed on private property are not exempted from legal scrutiny. Brandishing a weapon in a threatening manner on private property is not like an exemption for a farm vehicle in the Missouri countryside. There are exemptions, and then there are crimes.

However, because they are—again—clever trial lawyers, the McCloskeys have already begun their legal defense, suggesting that they were in fear for their safety.

Mr. McCloskey told local TV station KMOV:

A mob of at least 100 smashed through the historic wrought iron gates of Portland Place, destroying them, rushed towards my home where my family was having dinner outside, and put us in fear of our lives.”

This is what the gate normally looks like. Residents can unlock it with a key, or easily hop over the middle part if they so choose. (Not that I’d know.)

This is what the gate looked like when it was first opened:

And this is what it looked like at the end of the incident. “Smashed” and “destroyed” seems to be an exaggeration and further, and although the gate is clearly damaged, it is unclear whether the damage occurred before or after the McCloskeys pointed guns. But that’s neither here nor there. Even if the gate was bent before the gun theatrics, that still doesn’t put the McCloskeys clear of the statute.

Had the McCloskeys not been lawyers, the worst-case scenario they could be facing would be the potential for a potential Class D felony—which would mean that if they were charged and convicted, they’d probably lose their guns. In all likelihood, they would not go to jail since they can afford good counsel and are, let’s be honest, white AF.

But the McCloskeys are lawyers. And Mrs. McCloskey is “a member of the Missouri Bar Association ethical review panel.” In Missouri, lawyers go before the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel when they screw up. And if that body offers a judgment that the lawyer doesn’t accept, it goes to the Missouri Supreme Court.

And despite Mr. McCloskey’s comments to KMOV, the couple has hired a lawyer and changed their story in an . . . interesting way:

So they are staunch Black Lives Matters supporters who were happy to have peaceful protesters on the private road and only brought out firearms and started pointing them when they noticed some protesters who were committing “violence and threatening acts of aggression” and were absolutely, super-duper white.

What a twist!

But it gets better! As Mr. McCloskey tells KSDK, his wife “doesn’t know anything about guns!” That’s what legal experts might call arbitrage, but it’s what gun owners might say is bad discipline. When taking neophytes shooting, it is incumbent on all gun owners to make sure that those with them are practicing proper gun safety.

By the way, you should definitely read their lawyer’s bio because it is wild. Albert Watkins may have better instincts than the McCloskeys, but not by much:

Albert S. Watkins, the founding member and senior counsel with the firm is, quite candidly, beyond description. . . .

Opposing counsel in the infamous The North Face Apparel Co. v. The South Butt case described the most dangerous place in the world as being the space “between Al Watkins and a microphone.” . . .

Self-centered, egotistical, and a self-proclaimed expert in all matters, Watkins is unabashed about bringing to the public eye the irreconcilable nature of a position taken by an adversary in a case. . . .

In Hammon v. Harris, Watkins garnered the first verdict of its kind against a young female who falsely accused a policeman of engaging in sexual relations and snorting cocaine with a female patron of a restaurant at which the policeman was working a security shift. When the defendant would not appear for her deposition, Watkins procured an order mandating the woman be brought into custody and held in jail pending her deposition. During the ensuing video deposition, Watkins swiftly got the woman to confess and admit the allegations were false. The video deposition swiftly became an internet sensation. A six-figure judgment was entered in favor of the policeman. The woman committed suicide thereafter.

Please understand, this is not an indictment of Watkins. It’s from the guy’s own brag-book.

Anyway, the McCloskeys’ best hope now is that they won’t be charged with either a felony or a lesser charge. That would keep their law firm in business, assuming that the potential client base they once served still finds them acceptable potential counsels and competing firms don’t paint them as rich white folks who point guns at brown people who aren’t giving them a percentage of their personal injury awards.

At worst, they could be charged with—and potentially found guilty of—a felony. Which could be lights-out for the McCloskey firm.

Last week Yascha Mounk made the definitive argument against the insanity of modern cancel culture, which is now approaching Reign of Terror levels of moral panic. But that’s not what’s going on here. The McCloskeys aren’t like an innocent van driver who got photographed making the “OK” sign. They’re officers of the court who went out on their front porch and recklessly pointed firearms at people who did not pose them the kind of clear and immediate threat that would justify their actions.

It is absolutely fitting that the McCloskeys face scrutiny for their actions.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the McCloskeys did not call the Saint Louis Police Department. They did. The timing of that call relative to their brandishing firearms is unclear.

Jim Swift

Jim Swift is a senior editor at The Bulwark.