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PolitiFact: What we know about the St. Louis couple who pointed guns at protesters, fearing ‘angry mob’

The local prosecutor is investigating to see whether the couple should be charged.

On a Sunday evening in St. Louis, a group of people calling for the city’s mayor to resign marched into the upscale neighborhood where she lived. 

They were met inside the gate of Portland Place by a white couple, one brandishing a rifle and the other a handgun, photos and video clips show. What caused the couple to respond in that way — capturing the attention of President Donald Trump on Twitter — is in some dispute.

A Facebook post showing three photos of the couple and their guns claimed: “This Couple is Mark and Patricia McCloskey, owners and attorneys at McCloskey Law Center. in the CWE pointing guns at protestors that are walking by!”

(CWE refers to the Central West End neighborhood.)

The post, which does not show photos of any protesters, was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

In short, the photos are legitimate. The McCloskeys, who are both lawyers, claim they feared for their safety. A local prosecutor is investigating whether criminal charges should be filed against the couple. Meanwhile, the couple’s actions have sparked debate about whether they were protected under Missouri’s version of the castle doctrine law, which generally allows a person to defend their homes.

Here’s what we know about what happened, based on media reports and social media from the scene.

Couple points guns at marchers

The marchers were seeking the resignation of St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson, who lives in the same area of the city’s Central West End as the McCloskeys. 

Hundreds of protesters, chanting "resign Lyda, take the cops with you," marched to Krewson's home, calling for her resignation, KMOV-TV in St. Louis reported.

Krewson drew the scorn of some residents two days earlier when she read the names and addresses of demonstrators calling for police reform during a Facebook Live video session. She later explained herself, saying on Facebook, "I would like to apologize for identifying individuals who presented letters and comment cards to me at City Hall as I was answering a routine question during one of my updates earlier today. While this is public information, never did I intend to cause distress or harm to anyone. The post has been removed and again, I sincerely apologize."

Armed homeowners standing in front their house along Portland Place confront protesters marching to St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson's house Sunday in the Central West End of St. Louis. [ LAURIE SKRIVAN | AP ]

During the march at about 7:30 p.m., a couple at a nearby home stepped outside with guns. "Images and videos showed 61-year-old Patricia McCloskey pointing a handgun at the crowd and her husband, 63-year-old Mark McCloskey, was seen holding a rifle," KOTV reported. "Mark and Patricia McCloskey are personal-injury lawyers who work together in the McCloskey Law Center in St. Louis."

Video clips show Mark McCloskey and protesters exchanging words.

Mark McCloskey contacted KOTV the day after the protest saying he had been having dinner with his family outside of their home when the crowd marched past "No Trespassing" and "Private Street" signs. 

"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," McCloskey told KOTV. "This is all private property. There are no public sidewalks or public streets. We were told that we would be killed, our home burned and our dog killed. We were all alone facing an angry mob."

Video with the story shows the couple, who live in what St. Louis public radio described as a million-dollar home, exchanging words with demonstrators.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported this exchange as part of its account:

“Private property!” Mark McCloskey shouted repeatedly at the crowd, as he held a rifle. “Get out! Private property, get out!” Patricia McCloskey pointed a small handgun. Someone in the crowd replied, “Calm down.” A woman protester yelled, “Then call the (expletive) cops, you idiot!” and “It’s a public street (expletive).”

A video clip shows the protesters entered a gate that appeared to be fully intact. In an incident report, St. Louis police did not indicate whether it was confirmed that any protesters were armed. The report says in full:

“Officers responded to a ‘Call for Help’ at the above location. The victims stated they were on their property when they heard a loud commotion coming from the street. When the victims went to investigate the commotion, they observed a large group of subjects forcefully break an iron gate marked with ‘No Trespassing’ and ‘Private Street’ signs. Once through the gate, the victims advised the group that they were on a private street and trespassing and told them to leave. The group began yelling obscenities and threats of harm to both victims. When the victims observed multiple subjects who were armed, they then armed themselves and contacted police. The investigation is ongoing.”

The St. Louis city prosecutor, Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner, tweeted a statement saying she was alarmed that "peaceful protesters were met by guns and a violent assault," and that her office and police are investigating. 

"Make no mistake: we will not tolerate the use of force against those exercising their First Amendment rights, and will use the full power of Missouri law to hold people accountable," the statement said.

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Coverage of local and national protests from the Tampa Bay Times

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WHAT ARE NON-LETHAL AND LESS-LETHAL WEAPONS? A guide to what’s used in local and national protests.

WHAT ARE ARRESTED PROTESTERS CHARGED WITH? About half the charges filed have included unlawful assembly.

CAN YOU BE FIRED FOR PROTESTING? In Florida, you can. Learn more.

HEADING TO A PROTEST? How to protect eyes from teargas, pepper spray and rubber bullets.