Two Velda City police officers indicted by grand jury for assault, armed criminal action

Christopher+Gage%2C+left%2C+and+Matthew+Schanz%2C+right.+

Christopher Gage, left, and Matthew Schanz, right.

A grand jury indicted two Velda City police officers last week on charges of assault and armed criminal action for shooting a man during a traffic stop in February, St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell’s office announced Aug. 27. 

It marks one of the few times in St. Louis County history that police officers have faced major charges for violence on the job.

Velda City Police Department officers Christopher Gage, 37, with 10 years of law-enforcement experience, and Matthew Schanz, 33, with nine years of experience, were both charged by county prosecutors in July with first-degree assault and armed criminal action for the shooting, but Bell’s office then presented the case to a grand jury. Gage and Schanz both live in the 2800 block of Maywood Avenue in North County, 63121, and both were ordered held on $75,000 bond for the double felony charges.

The 37-year-old man who was shot in the incident was seriously wounded but survived, with his initial condition in a local hospital described as critical but stable. He has not been charged with a crime at this time, police said.

No trial date for the two officers has yet been scheduled.

Prosecutors allege that Gage and Schanz stopped a car with expired temporary tags around 1:35 p.m. Feb. 25 in the 8300 block of Octavia Avenue in Flordell Hills, at the intersection of Octavia and West Florissant Avenue. But, prosecutors allege, the traffic stop went wrong when the officers announced they would search the car without probable cause and then shot the driver, identified as A.A. in court records, as A.A. fled in his car after Schanz allegedly reported over the police radio, falsely, that the driver had tried to run them over. Both officers fired their handguns at the car as the driver drove back down the street after turning around at a dead end. 

The Velda City Police Department asked the St. Louis County Police Department to conduct an outside investigation into the shooting, and county detectives referred the case to the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office for charges on June 23. The case is being prosecuted by the Conviction and Incident Review Unit, an independent unit within the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office formed to investigate and prosecute official misconduct, including excessive force by police officers.

“We will continue working on behalf of the community and ensuring that no one is above the law,” said Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell in a news release. “We will now begin the process of preparing this case for trial.”

According to the account of the traffic stop in the probable-cause statement produced by county police, Gage and Schanz said they smelled marijuana coming from the car. Gage told the driver that they intended to search the car “without probable cause,” according to the probable-cause statement, and to arrest him if they found any marijuana. 

The driver then fled from the traffic stop in his car. At that point, Schanz “falsely reported over his police radio that the driver had tried to run him over,” the probable-cause statement alleges. The first information released by police said that the driver drove toward the officers, but investigators later said that did not happen.

The driver turned around at the end of the block because he was on a dead-end street. When the driver came back down the street, both defendants were standing out of the roadway, in a small parking lot. Schanz then walked out to the center of the roadway, into the path of A.A.’s vehicle. Schanz began walking down the center of the roadway toward the car and yelling at the driver to stop.

Schanz fired his handgun multiple times into the car, first as he was approaching the car, but then continuing as A.A. drove around and past him onto the busy street of West Florissant. After the car had driven around Schanz headed past the officers onto West Florissant, Gage also fired his handgun multiple times into the car. The gunfire hit the car and also hit A.A., at least once. 

The officers broadcast an officer-in-need-of-aid call, and the driver of the car continued to drive away headed eastbound on West Florissant Avenue for about a half a mile. The driver hit another car in the 6300 block of West Florissant, and the fleeing driver was taken into custody. The crash was minor, and the citizen who was hit in the other car was not injured.