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Saturday, May 29, 2021

A Police Killing in St. Louis Remains Shrouded in Darkness

Posted By and on Sat, May 29, 2021 at 6:58 AM

Page 5 of 7

You Could Have Killed Me

Officer #1 has a name: Lucas Roethlisberger. He is in his mid-30s, married with kids, originally from Nashville. A strong runner, Roethlisberger was a cross-country and track standout in high school and college, and he is a Saint Louis University alum.

A 13-year veteran of the SLMPD force, he holds the department’s highest honor, the Medal of Valor, and colleagues picked him as their Officer of the Year in 2010.

“We have a great department,” Roethlisberger told the St. Louis Fox affiliate in 2012. “Leadership, integrity … you live with it right in your chest, where your badge is.”

Roethlisberger earned these distinctions only a few years into his career after nearly dying from an on-duty shooting. A bullet ripped through the carotid artery in his neck. He was in a coma, had two strokes, and went through nine months of rehabilitation.

“He couldn’t talk, he couldn’t walk, he couldn’t write, couldn’t feed himself,” his wife Courtney told the TV news. For weeks, she slept by his side on a cot in his hospital room.

In 2010, Roethlisberger and a partner stopped a car for traveling with its headlights off. When Roethlisberger tried to search Kim Cobb, a Black driver, he pulled a gun on the officers, shooting Roethlisberger in the neck. He fired again, hitting Roethlisberger’s bullet-resistant vest and his right arm. Roethlisberger’s partner was hit in the leg and returned fire, shooting Cobb in the back.

click to enlarge St. Louis Police Officer Lucas Roethlisberger is a thirteen-year veteran of the department. - ST. LOUIS METROPOLITAN POLICE
  • ST. LOUIS METROPOLITAN POLICE
  • St. Louis Police Officer Lucas Roethlisberger is a thirteen-year veteran of the department.

Cobb had no record, other than a marijuana possession arrest, and he was under the influence of marijuana the night he shot the officers, his attorney said.

Both officers survived. Cobb pleaded guilty to the assaults. His attorney proposed a sentence of 18 years. Cobb got four life sentences instead.

Circuit Court Judge Dennis Schaumann, in explaining his decision to the court, had his own theory for why Cobb shot his gun. “The officers were wearing blue, and no other reason,” Schaumann said. “This is happening too much in society. It’s got to stop.”

During his victim impact statement, a “palpably angry” Roethlisberger spoke with “clipped words,” a journalist reported.

“You are a coward,” Roethlisberger told Cobb. “I have kids, for God’s sakes. You could have killed me.”

Schaumann had more to say, scolding Cobb: “In this life, Mr. Cobb, we all have to make choices, and you made a horrible choice, first of all, by carrying a gun and second of all, for using it.”

Staring down Cobb, Courtney Roethlisberger asked him: “Was it worth it?”

After the hearing, Roethlisberger told reporters: “We got justice.”

On A Mission

In the years since Cobb’s sentencing, Roethlisberger has stayed out of the news, despite shooting at another Black man on St. Louis’s North Side.

A separate FIU investigation from January 2018 indicates that Roethlisberger fired at — and missed — Tremayne Silas after he allegedly pointed an assault rifle at him, according to Roethlisberger. After Silas fled his car during an attempted traffic stop, admittedly carrying a gun, Roethlisberger alone chased him on foot as other officers chased the car's passenger and tried to cut Silas off. Roethlisberger told investigators that Silas pointed the gun at him before jumping a backyard fence. In an interview with investigators, Silas denied ever pointing his gun at officers and said that officers tased and “kicked the shit out of” him after he had surrendered. Civilian video footage obtained by investigators, which captured only part of the incident, shows Silas running away from Roethlisberger. The incident, which also took place at night in a residential area, was never publicly reported.

Even after Roethlisberger killed Bufford almost two years later, local reporters didn’t pick up on the fact that he was the shooter. His name appears in public records about the case, but he wasn’t otherwise identified as Bufford’s killer.

His public-facing reputation still intact, Roethlisberger’s interactions with Black citizens have remained fraught. He is one of 343 officers named in an ongoing federal lawsuit for "kettling" — a controversial law enforcement tactic that prevents people from dispersing — during the 2017 protests that followed SLMPD officer Jason Stockley’s acquittal for the murder of Anthony Lamar Smith, a Black man.

Roethlisberger has also received two citizen complaints that the department released. The first came from Colette Taylor-Moore in 2016, who said Roethlisberger called her teenage son off her mother’s front porch, harassing and threatening him with tasing if he didn’t come to him.

"He was just on a mission," Taylor-Moore remembers. “He had a chip on his shoulder, an arrogance, like, 'You can't tell me anything.' He was brash, if you will. I would have understood his attitude more if he were being taunted or disrespected, but there was no need for any of that.”

The SLMPD would not release the outcome of Taylor-Moore’s complaint, but she reports that nothing happened in the case, except a call from someone who sounded high-ranking and explained that Roethlisberger had been investigating a disturbance on the block.

“That was not the truth,” Taylor-Moore said. “There was no one else there.”

In the complaint, Taylor-Moore says that Roethlisberger also harassed three other young men walking down that block, as her son later observed.

In a second citizen complaint filed by LaVictor Wallace in 2017, Roethlisberger was one of several officers accused of ripping out dreadlocks from the man’s head, after kicking in his girlfriend’s front door and forcing him to dress in her clothing.

“I was called a ‘bitch,’ so they said they’re going to dress me like one and gave me my girlfriend clothes,” Wallace wrote in the complaint. “I was beat and charged with a gun and drugs and they knew that I was innocent.”

The criminal charges stemming from Wallace’s arrest did not hold up in court. His complaint against Roethlisberger was withdrawn pending resolution of his criminal case, according to Civilian Oversight Board records. It does not appear that it was refiled. Roethlisberger did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Wallace did not respond to requests for comment.


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