City taxpayers will not be on the hook for the actions of a St. Louis police officer who killed a fellow officer during a game of Russian roulette-style game in January 2019.
On Wednesday, a federal judge has dismissed all of the federal civil rights claims from a lawsuit that the family of St. Louis Police Officer Katlyn Alix filed against the officer who killed her and remanded the case back to the state court.
Now, the only defendants left in the case are Nathaniel Hendren, Officer Patrick Riordan and their Sergeant, Gary Foster. Hendren pleaded guilty on February 28 to involuntary manslaughter and is currently serving a seven-year prison term. Riordan, who was Hendren’s partner the night Alix was killed, and Foster remain on the force.
Alix’s mother, Aimee Wahlers, filed the civil suit against Hendren, Riordan, Foster and the City of St. Louis in October 2019.
U.S. District Judge Stephen Clark’s 15-page ruling dismissing the city from liability ultimately came down to just a few words: Despite, not because.
“Wahlers argues that Hendren’s ‘encounter with Alix was made possible only because he was abusing his power as a state actor,’” Clark wrote. “It may be true that, had Hendren not shirked his police duties that evening, he would not have met Alix at his apartment. But this does not mean Hendren used his authority as a police officer to facilitate the assault; the facts Wahlers alleges demonstrate just the opposite—Hendren encountered Alix at his apartment despite and in contravention of his authority as a police officer, not because of it.”
Hendren’s attorney, Talmage Newton, issued a statement on his client’s behalf.
“Officer Hendren continues to express grave remorse over the events of January 2019 and has nothing but sympathy for the family of Katlyn Alix,” he wrote. “He will respond to the remaining allegations in this lawsuit through pleadings in the St. Louis City courts.”
5 On Your Side is awaiting responses from St. Louis city counselors as well as Wahlers’ attorney, Scott Rosenblum, who said at the time the lawsuit was filed that he and the other attorneys involved “absolutely believe this is a righteous lawsuit and feel confident that the facts will support our claim.”
In its motion seeking dismissal from the lawsuit, the city argued that Hendren did not act under color of state law in shooting Alix because he did not commit that act “in the performance of any actual or pretended duty as a police officer.”
“The Court agrees,” Clark wrote. “At the time of the shooting, Hendren and Riordan, though ostensibly ‘on duty’ were willfully and deliberately shirking their responsibilities as police officers. They disabled the GPS system on their police cruiser so they could not be tracked, left their patrol district without permission, and ignored a call for service, blithely coding the call as a false alarm.
Clark continued: “Wahlers herself alleges that Hendren and Riordan went to Hendren’s apartment “for personal reasons.”
On the night of the shooting, Hendren and Riordan were on duty and supposed to be patrolling the city’s Second District. Instead, they went to Hendren’s apartment, which was in a different district, to meet up with Alix. Alix and Hendren were in a romantic relationship, and Alix was planning to divorce her husband of three months – also a St. Louis police officer, according to court documents.
In her lawsuit, Wahlers argued that Hendren’s encounter with her daughter was made possible “only because he was abusing his power as a state actor.”
“Wahlers alleges that Hendren and Riordan ‘at all times relevant, [were] acting under the color of the statutes, ordinances, regulations, customs, and laws of the State of Missouri.’ But the Court cannot and does not accept this quintessential legal conclusion as true. In support of her claim that Hendren was acting under color of state law, Wahlers alleges that Hendren was on duty, in uniform, and traveled to the apartment in his police vehicle. But these ‘official trappings’ of Hendren’s status as a police officer lose much of their significance here because Alix, Hendren’s victim, was herself a police officer.”