Slay: Crime is STL’s No. 1 issue

By Brandie Piper

This writing was part of a multimedia story published on KSDK.com Jan. 15, 2015.

ST. LOUIS – The city’s homicide rate this year quadrupled overnight, rising from two to eight during a violent 12-hour span that ended with a murder Thursday morning in downtown St. Louis.

“The level of violence that we’ve seen in the last 12 hours is unacceptable. Criminals have to know that when they’re arrested there are consequences, so we have to rely on the courts, to have confidence to keep our community safe. We’re not seeing that when the criminal element feels comfortable in rush hour traffic to approach a vehicle and fire shots at that vehicle,” St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson said during a media briefing Thursday morning.

St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department command staff gathered at 5 a.m. Thursday morning to start working on the cases. Some of the victims from the overnight crime knew their assailants, so the command staff talked about the wanted suspects they’ve identified and what other units can do to assist.

“Everybody is at work; special operations, anti-crime, the intelligence unit, we’re working to find these individuals, but we need the public’s help,” Dotson said. “The police department cannot do their job by themselves. Any information that the public has, whether they think it’s important or not, we would like to know about it.”

By 3:30 p.m. Thursday, three shooting suspects were in custody and another two were still on the loose. Dotson and St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay held another news conference to talk about the violence and challenges facing the city and the police department.

Slay said the city needs 160 more officers at a cost of $10 million to deal with the high crime rate. He also says state law makes it too difficult to prosecute gun cases. He says of all the people arrested with gun crimes in the last year, two-thirds were only punished with probation.

“This is something that disturbs me greatly, when you see this much violence going on in our city in such a short period of time,” he said. “It is absolutely outrageous, it’s out of hand, it disgusts me, and it is something that is very, very concerning to me. It does have an impact on all of our families, our entire city, and all of our neighborhoods. Without any question, crime is the absolute number one issue in the city of St. Louis. Right now, nothing is even close,” said Slay.

Anyone with information about any of the crimes can leave an anonymous tip with CrimeStoppers by calling 866-371-TIPS.

Here is a map of the crime scenes and a summary of the incidents.

WOMAN SHOT BY ACQUAINTANCE AT TRAFFIC LIGHT

Police say around 8:17 a.m. 32-year-old Cheri Simpson was driving her vehicle with two 32-year-old male passengers when she stopped at the light at S. Tucker Boulevard and Chouteau Avenue and an acquaintance pulled up alongside her vehicle. Police say they exchanged words before the acquaintance opened fire, striking Simpson in her shoulder.

She was taken to a local hospital where she was pronounced dead.

One of the 32-year-old male passengers was sitting in the front passenger seat. He was shot in both of his hands and taken to an area hospital where he is listed as stable. The second passenger was not injured.

Police say the suspect, a 49-year-old man who has not yet been identified, fled the scene and was taken into custody a short time later. The gun used in the shooting was recovered.

BIZARRE HOME INVASION

The string of violence started around 7:25 p.m. Wednesday when a man was killed during a bizarre home invasion in the 5000 block of Cates Avenue.

Police say the 29-year-old suspect shot 34-year-old Leon Rivers in his chest, and he died a short time later.

More information about this crime: http://on.ksdk.com/1yfvB4D

MAN SHOT AT NEAR TOWER GROVE PARK

Three hours after the murder on Cates, a man was approached by a trio of suspects who attempted to rob him near the intersection of Shenandoah Avenue and Lawrence Street in the Shaw neighborhood.

Police say the victim ran away, but the suspects fired shots at him. The victim was not injured.

More details about this crime: http://on.ksdk.com/1C4r04B

MAN KILLED BY GIRLFRIEND’S EX-BOYFRIEND

Around 12:30 a.m., two hours after the Shaw incident, 19-year-old Kenny Burgett collapsed in the 7800 block of Bandero, near River des Peres.

Police say Burgett had been shot in the 7800 block of Tennessee after getting into a fist fight with his girlfriend’s 22-year-old ex-boyfriend.

Burgett was taken to an area hospital where he died.

The 22-year-old suspect, who has not been identified, is in custody.

More details about this crime: http://on.ksdk.com/1Bvm6xO

2 MEN GUNNED DOWN NEAR MARQUETTE PARK

Thirteen minutes later, police say two men were gunned down in south city, near Marquette Park. Officers say three men were approached by three men who announced a robbery. At least two of the suspects fired shots at the victims.

One of the victims, a 21-year-old man, was not injured. Another victim, identified as 21-year-old Eric Lee, was shot twice in his head. He was taken to an area hospital where he died.

The third victim, identified as 20-year-old Jerivon Taylor, was shot multiple times and died at the scene.

Police released surveillance video of the suspects exiting an re-entering their vehicle near the crime scene.

More details about this crime: http://on.ksdk.com/1wdmASg

HOTEL MANAGER MURDERED, MANHUT UNDERWAY

At 2:50 a.m. a man carrying a gun approached the front door of the Drury Inn & Suites in the 2100 block of Sulphur Avenue, just southwest of Interstate 44 and Hampton Avenue.

The manager, identified as 50-year-old Scott Knopfel, unlocked the door for the suspect, believing he was a patron.

Police say the suspect spoke with Knopfel before jumping the counter. As Knopfel opened the cash drawer, police say a struggle ensued, and the suspect shot Knopfel in his head. It’s unknown if anything was taken from the hotel.

The suspect jumped back over the counter, walked out of the hotel, and left in a black Honda.

Police released this video of the suspect entering and leaving the hotel.

More details about this crime: http://on.ksdk.com/1CpXHIf

Police say none of the crimes are related.

PERSPECTIVE FROM A ST. LOUIS PROSECUTOR

Everything is on the table, the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office says as it looks for new ways to try to prevent the city’s most violent crimes.

Chief Trial Assistant Prosecutor Beth Orwick says the office is working with New York City and Kansas City hoping to replicate their reduction in violent crime. She says part of what prosecutors are learning is to use data to prevent violent offenders from becoming repeat offenders.

Orwick says while in some cases they need higher bonds to keep armed suspects locked up and always need witnesses who are willing to go to court and help them get convictions, she and her fellow prosecutors also want to become a more proactive office that is in the community before major crimes happen, going after whom they call “crime drivers.”

“A small portion of our city’s population is committing most of these crimes,” said Orwick. “So when I say crime driver, the people who are out there with those [illegal] guns. The people who are out there committing these acts. People who are terrifying our city. Those are the crime drivers.”

Prosecutors will visit the other side of the state later this month where they say, St. Louis may be able to learn how to better communicate among different arms of the criminal justice system, and government, to hopefully replicate Kansas City’s murder rate that’s at a 50-year low.

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