Missouri couple who waved guns at protesters plead guilty

St. Louis, Mo., couple Mark and Patricia McCloskey, who gained notoriety for pointing guns at social justice demonstrators walking past their home last year, pleaded guilty Thursday to misdemeanor charges and agreed to give up the weapons they used during the confrontation.

Mark and Patricia McCloskey brandished their weapons when hundreds of protesters walked past their home

In this photo taken on June 28, 2020, armed homeowners Mark and Patricia McCloskey, wave guns at protesters in front their house in the Central West End of St. Louis, Mo. (Laurie Skrivan/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/AP)

A St. Louis, Mo., couple who gained notoriety for pointing guns at social justice demonstrators last year pleaded guilty Thursday to misdemeanor charges and agreed to give up the weapons they used during the confrontation.

Patricia McCloskey pleaded guilty to misdemeanor harassment and was fined $2,000 US. Her husband, Mark McCloskey, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor fourth-degree assault and was fined $750 US.

When several hundred demonstrators marched past their home in June 2020, the couple waved weapons at them. They claimed the protesters were trespassing and that they feared for their safety.

The McCloskeys, both lawyers in their 60s, wore blue blazers and spoke calmly in answering questions from Judge David Mason during Thursday's hearing. Mason asked Mark McCloskey if he acknowledged that his actions put people at risk of personal injury. He replied, "I sure did your honour."

Mark McCloskey, who announced in May that he was running for a U.S. Senate seat in Missouri, was unapologetic after the hearing.

"I'd do it again," he said from the courthouse steps in downtown St. Louis. "Any time the mob approaches me, I'll do what I can to put them in imminent threat of physical injury because that's what kept them from destroying my house and my family."

The McCloskeys pleaded guilty Thursday to misdemeanour charges. (Lawrence Bryant/Reuters)

'A little unreasonable'

The McCloskeys' defence lawyer, Joel Schwartz, said after the hearing the couple had hoped to raise money by donating Mark's rifle to charity, but acknowledged that it was an unusual request.

Because the charges are misdemeanours, the McCloskeys do not face the possibility of losing their law licences and can continue to own firearms.

On the courthouse steps after the hearing, special prosecutor Richard Callahan said the misdemeanour plea was reasonable, noting that the McCloskeys called the police, no shots were fired and no one was hurt.

"But I think that their conduct was a little unreasonable in the end," he said. "I don't think people should view this case as some type of betrayal or assault on the Second Amendment. We still have the Second Amendment rights. It's just that the Second Amendment does not permit unreasonable conduct."

The June 28, 2020, protests in St. Louis came weeks after the death of George Floyd under a Minneapolis police officer's knee. Mark McCloskey emerged with an AR-15-style rifle, and Patricia McCloskey waved a semiautomatic pistol, according to the indictment. Cellphone video captured the confrontation. No shots were fired and no one was hurt.

WATCH | The McCloskeys say they would do it all again: 

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A couple in St. Louis, Mo., point firearms at Black Lives Matter protesters outside their home. 0:32

Trump spoke in couple's defence

The McCloskeys were indicted by a grand jury in October on felony charges of unlawful use of a weapon and evidence tampering.

Callahan later amended the charges to give jurors the alternative of convictions of misdemeanor harassment instead of the weapons charge. Under that alternative, the evidence tampering count would be dropped.

An investigation by St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner's office led to the initial indictments — and harsh backlash from several Republican leaders. Then U.S. president Donald Trump spoke out in defence of the couple, whose newfound celebrity earned them an appearance via video at the Republican National Convention.

Republican Missouri Gov. Mike Parson has said that if the McCloskeys are convicted, he'll pardon them. A spokesperson for Parson didn't immediately respond to a request for comment after the hearing.

Callahan, a longtime judge and former U.S. attorney, was appointed special prosecutor after a judge in December ruled that Gardner created an appearance of impropriety by mentioning the McCloskey case in fundraising emails before the August Democratic primary. Gardner went on to win re-election.