An attorney for former Point Elementary School Principal Jim Walters contends video and photographic evidence prove Walters is innocent of lewd and indecent conduct charges.
Walters’ attorney, Neil Bruntrager, introduced the video and photographic evidence during a trial last week in St. Louis Municipal Court before Judge Joseph Murphy. Murphy had not issued a verdict by the Call’s press deadline.
Walters has maintained his innocence since being issued a summons March 16 in Forest Park near Concourse and McKinley.
The summons, issued by then-Park Ranger Tim McGarity, states, “I observed subject Walters grab his genitales (sic) while talking to a person in his vehicle who later confessed to what was happening.”
McGarity, who is now a utility officer, was the only person to testify during the Sept. 25 trial. McGarity said this case was not a factor in leaving his job as a park ranger.
Walters was present for the trial, but did not testify.
When questioned by City Counselor Craig Higgins, McGarity said he stood behind a tree, roughly 150 feet from the intersection of Concourse and McKinley, but still could see the intersection. The ranger first observed Walters on the sidewalk near the intersection and told Higgins he saw a vehicle make a U-turn and stop “a short distance” from the sidewalk.
Walters, who was on the passenger side of the car, leaned in, looked around and put his hands up as if to stretch, McGarity testified. Walters looked around again then exposed himself and made a masturbation motion, according to McGarity. McGarity said he could not see the driver.
After witnessing Walters expose his genitals, McGarity said he waited for a few seconds, then walked back to his vehicle. By the time McGarity said he reached his vehicle and began to drive, Walters, who was on foot, was almost to the upper Muny lot.
McGarity radioed another ranger, who was not named during the trial, giving Walters’ description and the direction Walters was heading.
McGarity followed and stopped the vehicle on Wells by the Jewel Box, but did not issue the driver a citation.
When Higgins asked if McGarity knew Walters’ profession at the time he wrote the citation, McGarity said he was not aware of it until shortly after issuing the citation.
Bruntrager presented two aerial photographs of the upper Muny lot, where McGarity testified Walters and the car traveled. Before the trial, Bruntrager had McGarity mark on both photographs the location of Walters and the car.
In his deposition, McGarity stated the events of March 16 occurred at 3 p.m.
“From 3 o’clock until 3:15 (p.m.), there’s constant motion. It’s just none of the motion that’s being described by Park Ranger McGarity,” Bruntrager said.
After committing McGarity to his statement that the events occurred at 3 p.m. and finished by 3:02 p.m., Bruntrager showed McGarity the video footage.
“(McGarity) agreed on the record that none of the events he claimed occurred are on this video,” Bruntrager said.
McGarity said during the trial he saw what he believes is part of the incident — a white vehicle pull up to the lot and stop in “that location.” But he said because the cameras run on motion, they shut off. If people are far enough out, the park ranger said the cameras do not pick up movement. McGarity said he was aware the cameras were there, but not aware they were recording.
In the video footage, two pedestrians triggered the camera, Bruntrager said.
“And this is happening right at a point where if Mr. Walters had been where Mr. McGarity had said, it would have triggered the camera,” Bruntrager said.
The video also shows two cars “drifting” in the upper Muny lot. When Bruntrager originally asked McGarity if the drifting occurred before or after the incident with Walters, McGarity said before. A timestamped image Bruntrager presented shows the cars drifting on the lot at 3:09 p.m.
Bruntrager asked McGarity if his testimony now was the events occurred before 3 p.m., and McGarity said, “I’m aware of that now.”
Bruntrager replied, “But you haven’t said that until just now. Your testimony earlier today was 3 o’clock. Are you now saying that’s wrong?”
McGarity responded, “Yes.”
Bruntrager also contended the allegation of Walters exposing himself is not stated in the summons. McGarity said he had no prior issues with how he wrote reports.
In closing arguments, Higgins said the city has “relied on the testimony of Officer McGarity,” whose “eyewitness testimony” is he saw Walters “engage in acts that would constitute a criminal violation.”
“I believe that Mr. McGarity, when talking about the actual facts of what he observed was not impeached on those facts,” Higgins said. “I believe that this case basically was an impeachment of Mr. McGarity’s report-writing skills … The crux of what this case is about as to what Officer McGarity actually saw and what he witnessed happen, I do not believe that there was a case made that Officer McGarity did not view what he has testified …”
Bruntrager contended it is not a question of impeaching McGarity’s report-writing skills, but a “direct impeachment of everything (McGarity) says happened.”
“Start with the summons, judge. This is written back then,” Bruntrager said. “This is written at the time. This summons does not say he exposed himself. This summons does not say he masturbated. This summons says he grabbed his genitals.”
Bruntrager said if McGarity had “just given (Walters) this summons, perhaps things would have been very quiet.”
“But then he realized that this man was a grade-school principal,” he said. “Then he decided, ‘I’ve got to do something.’ So his testimony was, ‘I went home that day, and I didn’t file a report; I didn’t write a narrative until later.’ And in the narrative it says he exposed himself. In the narrative it says he masturbated. And it adds all of those things because after the fact he decided, ‘I better make this better.'”
Additionally, Bruntrager said for McGarity to see “what he claims he views,” “the idea that the vehicle would not obstruct his view of anything that Mr. Walters is doing is simply absurd.”
Higgins responded that McGarity stated he did not know Walters’ occupation when issuing the summons.
“… So to suggest that Mr. McGarity wanted to fictionalize a report because Mr. Walters was a principal just strains credibility …,” Higgins said.
Regarding the video footage, Higgins said, “What we don’t have is, obviously, videotape of what was alleged and what Mr. McGarity claims he saw. So, obviously, the best course of defense is to attack the ancillary elements …”
Higgins also stated there was no testimony questioning what McGarity saw.
Responding to Bruntrager’s statement about obstruction of view, Higgins said if someone, in this case Walters, is 10 feet away from a vehicle, sight would not be obstructed.
“Mr. McGarity is clear about what he observed. He testified succinctly. He testified that he saw the defendant expose himself, grab himself and simulate a masturbation conduct,” Higgins said.
Walters served as Point’s principal since July 1, 2007. After district officials learned of the allegations against Walters, the principal was placed on paid administrative leave.
In June, the Board of Education voted unanimously to terminate Walters’ employment with the district.
Mehlville Superintendent Eric Knost told the Call Friday it is not the district’s policy “to talk specifics about a personnel issue,” but “the school district stands by the decision we made.”