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Judge overturns Trump border rule requiring immigrants to first claim asylum in another country

23 0 01 Jul 2020

A federal court Tuesday night upheld a challenge to the Trump administration’s asylum restrictions, namely a 2019 rule that requires seekers to ask for asylum closer to home.

U.S. District Court Judge Timothy J. Kelly of the District of Columbia ruled in favor of immigrant nonprofits and asylum seekers who argued that the eligibility of the rule known as the “Third-Country Asylum Rule,” which was jointly published by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security, wrongly violated the Immigration and Nationality Act.

Kelly agreed that in adopting the policy, the administration did not abide by the federal Administrative Procedure Act, which requires that Americans have enough time and opportunity to weigh in on such rule changes.

The Immigration and Nationality Act, the judge argued, generally allows anyone who has made it to U.S. soil to apply for asylum, with some exceptions, including for those with criminal records.

“There are many circumstances in which courts appropriately defer to the national security judgments of the Executive,” Kelly wrote. “But determining the scope of an APA exception is not one of them.”

Tuesday night’s move is a major blow to the administration’s toughest asylum policy and comes on the heels of the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 18 decision to uphold the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which has allowed nearly 800,000 young people, known as Dreamers, to avoid deportation.

The third-country rule appeared to be aimed at Central American migrants who claimed they were fleeing gang violence. President Donald Trump has vowed to halt the migrants’ treks, including so-called caravans, through Mexico.

The rule has essentially forced asylum-seeking migrants from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador to first seek it from Mexico before asking the United States for help.

“This decision invalidates Trump’s ‘asylum ban’ at the Southern border,” former Acting Solicitor General and MSNBC legal analyst Neal Katyal said on Twitter Tuesday night. “The decision by Judge Kelly, who President Trump appointed to the bench in 2017, goes into effect immediately.”

Katyal said he was a party to the plaintiffs’ challenge.

The judge noted that the U.S. Supreme Court blocked an earlier injunction against the rule until the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed overturning the rule.

The impact might not be immediately felt along the U.S.-Mexico border. Kelly wrote that the “recent pandemic-related administrative action appears to have effectively closed the southern border indefinitely to aliens seeking asylum.

Last week a federal judge in Los Angeles ordered the release of children held in the country’s three family detention centers because of the danger posed by the coronavirus pandemic.

The Trump administration did record a win Thursday when the Supreme Court ruled that some asylum seekers can be fast-tracked for deportation.

Father of Marine killed in 2019 bomb attack wants answers amid reports of Russia bounties

21 0 01 Jul 2020

Amid reports of intelligence about possible Russian bounties for Taliban fighters who kill Americans in Afghanistan, the father of a Marine who died in a roadside bomb attack there last year wants answers.

Erik Hendriks’ 25-year-old son, Cpl. Robert A. Hendriks, was among three Marines killed in the bomb attack on a convoy outside Bagram Airfield.

Hendriks said that he learned about reports of the possible payments to Taliban-linked militants in a call from a reporter Monday.

If true, “that would break my heart,” Hendriks told NBC News on Tuesday. “It would be horrific,” he said.

Robert A. Hendriks — his father calls him Robby — was killed April 8, 2019, while conducting combat operations in Parwan province, the Defense Department has said. Also killed were Sgt. Benjamin S. Hines, 31, and Staff Sgt. Christopher K.A. Slutman, 43.

NBC News has not confirmed a link between the April 2019 bomb attack and any alleged offer of bounties by Russian intelligence officials.

Hendricks said he hasn’t heard from the president directly. “Why hasn’t anybody called me or my ex-wife to settle us? Isn’t it enough the hell we’re going through that no one has come forward with anything at all?” he said. “It’s really horrible.”

Since late last week, several media outlets, including by NBC News, have reported that the U.S. has gathered intelligence that Russian intelligence officers have offered to pay bounties to Taliban fighters who kill Americans.

It was first reported by The New York Times on Friday.

Cpl. Robert Hendriks, 25 of Locust Valley, New York.Courtesy Hendriks Family

Since then, the White House has denied that President Donald Trump or Vice President Mike Pence was briefed on the matter.

National Intelligence Director John Ratcliffe denied late Saturday that Trump had been briefed. Trump tweeted Sunday that “Intel just reported to me that they did not find this info credible” and therefore it had not been reported to him or Pence.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Tuesday that the president has been briefed. “But that does not change the fact that there is no consensus on this intelligence that still has yet to be verified,” she said.

NBC News has not confirmed a link between the April 2019 bomb attack and any alleged offer of bounties by Russian intelligence officials.

An official familiar with the intelligence has told NBC News that it shows that U.S. service members and Afghan civilians died as a result of Russian payments to the Taliban, but other officials said the intelligence hasn’t been corroborated.

A person with direct knowledge of the intelligence told NBC News that the White House and top National Security Council officials learned about intelligence indicating Russia was offering bounties on U.S. and coalition troops in early 2019.

Two senior administration officials on Monday said that the White House does not believe there is a link between the deaths of the three Marines in April 2019 and Russia’s offer to pay bounties.

Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, said that top officials told lawmakers in the Situation Room on Monday that “no one had been killed” as a result of Russia’s bounty offer. But other U.S. officials have said that it’s unclear, and others have said that the Russian effort may indeed have led to deaths.

Russia has denied the allegations. The Taliban also denies that there was a bounty program. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, called reports of such a program “ridiculous” and “100 percent bulls—.”

Hendriks, speaking by phone from his home in Glen Cove, N.Y., which is on Long Island, said Tuesday that he is waiting for the facts.

“I am waiting to see if there is a smoking gun,” he said. “Is someone going to step forward who knows this as a fact?”

Hendriks said his questions aren’t based on politics. He said he does not vote and has not since Ross Perot ran for president. Hendriks says he leans toward Trump and likes the president’s message of drawing down troops in Afghanistan but also worries it could destabilize the region and put Americans at risk of attacks at home.

Hendriks at times spoke through tears. He said that he wants to keep the focus on his son and his son’s service to the country.

Hendriks said that former Defense Secretary Gen. Jim Mattis sent him a hand-written letter that called his son a “Marine’s Marine.”

Answers would help Hendriks find peace. “Seeing if this is true is doing a justice for Robby,” he said.

Family of young Latino fatally shot by sheriffs deputy want autopsy report released

29 0 01 Jul 2020

It’s been 13 days since the last time Elisa Guardado saw her son alive.

“He told me he was going to come back home and eat some tacos dorados, but he never came back home. My family and my community feel destroyed because we still don’t know anything. We don’t know what happened with my son,” said Guardado in Spanish during a press conference on Tuesday in Los Angeles, demanding answers about the circumstances surrounding the death of Andrés Guardado, 18.

The young man was fatally shot by a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy on June 18, while working as a security guard at an auto body shop in Gardena.

The results of Andrés’ autopsy report, said attorney Adam Shea at the press conference, could help bring some clarity to the family and community members mourning the 18-year-old’s death. His firm, Panish Shea & Boyle LLP, represents the family.

But the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department placed a “security hold” on Andrés’ case last week. The hold was placed two days after Capt. Kent Wegener, head of the homicide bureau, said at a news conference they planned on releasing the autopsy report to the public.

As long as “the case remains on security hold, the report cannot be released” to the public, Sarah Ardalani, a spokesperson for the Los Angeles County medical examiner-coroner, told NBC News in an email.

The officials’ failure to explain exactly what sparked the deputy-involved shooting that resulted in Andrés’ killing has made the family’s “grieving process that much more difficult,” attorney Spencer Lucas, who works with Shea, told NBC News.

Demanding “immediate release” of report

Since then, the Guardado family has been urging officials to immediately release the Los Angeles County medical examiner’s report following Andrés’ autopsy.

Andrés’ parents, Elisa and Cristóbal, and their attorneys sent a letter to Sheriff Alex Villanueva on Sunday “to demand the immediate release” of the autopsy report after it was placed on hold “without explanation or justification.”

The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department did not respond to NBC News’ request for comment about the letter or the “security hold” placed on the autopsy.

The family and attorneys sent a letter to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Monday urging them to “intervene and arrange for the release of Andrés’ autopsy report,” after similar requests made to Villanueva were “ignored.”

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors did not respond to NBC News’ request for comment.

At a time when “there’s been some conflicting information as far as exactly what happened,” Shea said, they have not received a response following the “county and the sheriff’s department refusal to give us information.”

The family has hired an independent forensic expert to conduct an autopsy, said Lucas, and they expect to have results in a matter of days, “and that should really shed light on what exactly occurred.”

According to Wegener, two deputies with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office saw Andrés talking to someone in a car on West Redondo Beach Boulevard when he looked at the deputies, “produced a handgun” and started running away. After deputies chased Andrés into an alley in the back of a building, one of the deputies shot him six times, hitting him in the upper torso. Andrés was pronounced dead at the scene.

Shea said that based on the information they “have at this time from witnesses is that they believe he was shot in the back.” Wegener said autopsy results would determine that.

At the scene, investigators recovered a modified .40-caliber semiautomatic pistol that appeared to have been pieced together from different parts. It had no markings or serial number and had not been fired, according to Wegener, leading police to believe that Andrés didn’t fire the gun.

Authorities have suggested that the weapon belonged to Andrés, “and that information is contrary to everything that the family and friends and coworkers know,” said Shea.

“We do not believe that he had a gun. There was a gun at the scene, how and why that gun was there and who it belonged to is a question that needs to be answered,” he added.

Authorities have not yet said what prompted the shooting.

One reason details around what prompted the incident remain unclear is that the officers didn’t have body cameras, and investigators have struggled to access surveillance video from the alley where the shooting took place.

It is still unclear whether there’s any surveillance video showing what happened, said Shea.

Authorities have not yet released the names of the deputies involved, but sources close to the case identified them as Deputies Miguel Vega, who opened fire, and Chris Hernandez, who didn’t shoot, the Los Angeles Times reported.

“Many options for a bright future”

Cristóbal Guardado, Andrés’ father, told NBC News in Spanish that he still waits for his son to return home.

“My son was a boy with many options for a bright future. He liked to work, study and do sports,” he said, adding that his son dreamed of becoming a doctor one day.

Guardado’s work as a security guard was one of two jobs he had while going to school at the Los Angeles Trade-Technical College, his family said.

On Monday, Villanueva told members of the Compton City Council that he would soon make public investigative findings in the shooting of Andrés, including surveillance videos and search warrants, NBC’s Los Angeles affiliate KNBC reported.

“We’ve been asking for very basic information that should be provided to a grieving family,” said Lucas. “It’s making not only the fact finding that much harder, but it’s adding further stress and grief on the family.”

The Guardado family has already started the process to formally sue L.A. County officials over their son’s killing, said Lucas.

“The only thing we want is Justice for Andrés and that the people that harmed him pay for what they did to my son,” Cristóbal said.

Follow NBC Latino on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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Pompeo asks UN to extend an international arms embargo on Iran

28 0 30 Jun 2020

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appealed to the UN Security Council Tuesday to extend an expiring arms embargo on Iran, arguing “the world’s most heinous terrorist regime” is a threat to international peace and security and “must be held accountable.”

The international embargo is set to expire in October as part of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action [JCPOA] signed by Iran, the EU, Germany and the permanent members of the Security Council, including the U.S. The U.S. withdrew from the JCPOA in 2018.

While the U.S. has circulated a proposal to extend the embargo, Russia and China, both veto-wielding members of the Security Council, made clear Tuesday they would not support extending the embargo, and European signatories indicated their priority was preserving the JCPOA.

Speaking after Pompeo, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told the Council that any change to the agreed timetable is “tantamount to undermining [the JCPOA} in its entirety.”

“The Council must not allow a single state to abuse the process,” said Zarif. “In such a scenario, Iran’s options, as already notified to the remaining JCPOA participants, will be firm.”

Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi warned Monday that should the arms embargo be extended Iran will take action, according to The Tehran Times.

Members of the Security Council had gathered to discuss a new report by the U.N. Secretary General on the embargo, which found cruise missiles and drones used in attacks on Saudi Arabia in the past two years were of Iranian origin.

“Iran is already violating the arms embargo before its expiration date,” Pompeo warned, pointing to the UN report. “If Iran isn’t a threat to peace that demands a collective measure, I don’t know what is. The Council must reject extortion diplomacy.”

Pompeo stopped short of previous threats to pursue the “snapback” of all multilateral sanctions under the JCPOA should the measure fail. The Trump administration has argued the U.S. maintains legal authority under the UN resolution to reimpose sanctions despite U.S. withdrawal in July 2018.

“The United States’ overwhelming preference is to work with this Council to extend the embargo, to protect human life, to protect our national security, and yours,” Pompeo said. The top U.S. diplomat did not remain for the statements of other UNSC members, replaced shortly after his remarks by U.S. Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft.

China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, the EU and Iran remain parties to the deal.

“China opposes the U.S. push for an extended arms embargo on Iran,” said Chinese Ambassador to the UN Zhang Jun, who argued all measures of the nuclear deal should be implemented. “Having quit the JCPOA,” he said, “the U.S. is no longer a participant and has no right to trigger snapback at the Security Council.”

The U.K, Germany and France expressed similar concerns regarding Iran’s procurement of weapons but made clear the priority was preserving the nuclear agreement with Iran. The European members also spoke against unilateral action by the U.S. to snapback sanctions.

U.K. Deputy Representative to the U.N. Jonathan Allen acknowledged lifting of arms restrictions “would have major implications for regional security and stability,” but said preservation of the nuclear deal would be the European members’ “guiding principle.”

“In the absence of a viable alternative,” said Allen, “The agreement provides the best means of achieving our shared objectives on regional security instability upholding the nuclear non proliferation regime and ensuring the continued authority and integrity of the Security Council.”

The meeting was held just one day after Iran’s appeal to Interpol to issue an arrest warrant for U.S. President Donald Trump and others responsible for the drone strike that killed Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani. Interpol has denied the request.

Mississippi governor signs bill into law removing Confederate symbol from state flag

26 0 30 Jun 2020

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves signed a bill into law on Tuesday that will change the state flag by removing the Confederate battle emblem, first included 126 years ago.

Mississippi state legislators fast-tracked the measure over the weekend, with both chambers voting to suspend the rules Saturday, allowing for debate and a vote on the bill. It passed Sunday with a House vote of 91-23 that was quickly followed by a 37-14 Senate vote.

Reeves said just prior to signing the bill that he hoped Mississippians would put their divisions behind them to unite for a greater good.

“This is not a political moment to me, but a solemn occasion to lead Mississippi’s family to come together, to be reconciled and move on,” Reeves said.

The governor also said he understood the fear of many that the change would begin a chain of events that could lead to the erasure of the state’s complicated history. While Reeves said he stands against monuments being taken down, he said he did support a new flag.

“There is a difference between a monument and flags,” Reeve said. “A monument acknowledges and honors our past. A flag is a symbol of our present, of our people and of our future. For those reasons we need a new symbol.”

The bill calls for the formation of a commission to lead a flag redesign that eliminates the Confederate symbol but keeps the slogan “In God We Trust.” A redesign approved by the committee would then be placed on the November ballot.

If voters reject the new design in November, the commission would try again for a new flag that would be presented to the Legislature during the 2021 session.

The current flag, featuring red, white and blue stripes with the Confederate battle emblem in the corner, was adopted in February 1894, according to the Mississippi Historical Society.

Other attempts to change the flag have fallen short over the years, including a 2001 public referendum in which 64 percent voted against a redesign.

Reeves said Tuesday that he still believed that residents would have “eventually” voted for a new flag at the ballot box, but he did not think the state could handle a contentious political battle amid a pandemic and other turbulent issues arising in 2020.

“Our economy is on the edge of a cliff,” Reeves said. “Many lives depend on us cooperating and being careful to protect one another. I concluded our state has too much adversity to survive a bitter fight of brother against brother.”

The new movement to take the Confederate symbol off the flag came as Mississippi was under growing pressure, including from the NCAA, whose Southeastern Conference warned earlier this month that championship games could be barred in the state if the flag weren’t changed.

After the legislative votes Sunday, NCAA Commissioner Mark Emmert said in a statement it was past time to change the flag that “has too long served as a symbol of oppression, racism and injustice.”

Mississippi’s decision to change the flag after more than a century comes during a new reckoning on racial inequality in America. In the weeks since the May 25 death of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody, protesters across the country have demanded systemic changes in policing while seeking to remove symbols of oppression.

Among the structures that have been targeted are statues of Confederate President Jefferson Davis in Virginia, President Andrew Jackson in Washington, D.C., and Juan de Oñate, a conquistador, in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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We are getting clobbered: Six months into COVID-19, doctors fear what comes next

25 0 30 Jun 2020

Six months. That’s all it took for a new virus to circle the globe and infect more than 10 million people, including 2.5 million in the U.S.

That period of time could have been enough to slow or even stop the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. Some countries, such as New Zealand, have succeeded so far.

Full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak

But six months since the first report of a new virus emerging in Wuhan, China, on Dec. 31, the U.S. and other countries worldwide are experiencing surges in new cases.

On Monday, the World Health Organization marked the six months since a cluster of cases of a mysterious pneumonia in China was reported with a warning that the pandemic is “actually speeding up.”

“We all want this to be over. We all want to get on with our lives,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in his opening statement. “But the hard reality is: This is not even close to being over.”

The aggressive spread of the coronavirus in the U.S., particularly in the Southern and Western states, is a reality many American health care providers face with humility and disgust as they look toward the second half of 2020. The physicians and public health experts who were interviewed hesitated when asked whether they had hope that the U.S. could overcome COVID-19 over the next six months.

“I’m discouraged and demoralized,” said Dr. Michael Saag, associate dean for global health at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “When you compare our case numbers to almost any other industrialized country, we are getting clobbered.”

At least 126,332 deaths had been reported in the U.S., with 500,000 lives lost worldwide.

COVID-19 is a respiratory virus, which means it spreads most effectively through sneezing, coughing, talking, even singing. Staying at least 6 feet away from others and wearing fabric face coverings in public can help reduce the spread, experts say.

But encouragement to wear masks has been inconsistent, especially from the U.S. government.

President Donald Trump has refused to wear a mask in public settings, although he did wear one during a private tour of a plant in Michigan several weeks ago. It wasn’t until last weekend that Vice President Mike Pence publicly encouraged use of masks.

“There is no time like the present for us to get our act together and have uniform messaging coming from all public officials,” Saag said. “We have to start singing from the same sheet of music. Otherwise, we’re just sowing more division.”

Dr. Tom Frieden, a former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who is president of Resolve to Save Lives, a global public health initiative, said, “We are becoming, as a nation, a laggard and a pariah.”

Despite months of partial lockdowns in the U.S., there is worry that Americans simply haven’t taken COVID-19 seriously.

“They think that after ‘shelter in place’ that it’s OK to go back to normal,” said Dr. Colleen Kraft, associate chief medical officer at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta. “People aren’t taking personal responsibility and protecting themselves on a day-to-day basis.”

Saag warned about a “laissez-faire attitude.”

“Sorry,” he said. “This thing isn’t going away.”

COVID-19 + flu

Looking ahead to the fall, the coronavirus adds a worrying level of uncertainty to the 2020-21 flu season. According to the CDC, as many as 62,000 people died of flu-related complications during the 2019-20 season. More than 700,000 Americans were hospitalized with flu during that time.

Experts simply don’t know yet how the two viruses will interact.

“Could it be that if you were infected with influenza, then several days later infected with COVID, that you might be protected from the worst of what COVID could do? Or would it be the opposite?” asked Dr. Gregory Poland, an infectious diseases expert who is director of the Mayo Clinic’s Vaccine Research Group in Rochester, Minnesota.

Download the NBC News app for full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak

Experts say the U.S. health care system isn’t prepared for a simultaneous influx of COVID-19 and influenza.

“We know that flu will be around, and that pushes our hospital systems to operate at a hectic level,” said Crystal Watson, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “We’re going to be very stressed with the combination of COVID-19 and the flu.”

Flu vaccines, even though they’re less than 50 percent effective, will be strongly encouraged this fall to ease the impact on health care systems.

The second wave

As hospitals in states like Arizona, California and Texas work to contain new cases of the coronavirus, hospitals in the Northeast are preparing for what might come next.

New York’s Northwell Health treated 17,000 COVID-19 cases in the spring. Now, the system is preparing for a possible second uptick by making sure it has enough ventilators, medication and staffing.

“We’re preparing for the worst, hoping we’re wrong,” said Dr. Mangala Narasimhan, a pulmonologist who is regional director of critical care medicine at Northwell Health.

“Given everything that’s happening in Florida and Arizona and the fact that New York gets flights from everywhere,” Narasimhan said, “things will get bad here.”

The hospital system is also focused on its staff members’ mental health, working in counseling and extra days off. No matter what’s planned for the fall, staffers may never feel ready for a second wave in New York City hospitals.

“We have a lot of PTSD,” Narasimhan said. “None of us will ever feel that we are completely prepared.”

While there are still many unknowns — why some people who have been exposed have no symptoms or very mild illness, while others require hospitalization or die — scientists are working rapidly to develop effective treatments and a vaccine. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, predicted a vaccine by the beginning of next year.

“I am hopeful, based on the level of scientific inquiry that I see going on,” Saag said. “We have learned over the last 35, 40 years an awful lot about viral infections. We’re piling every ounce of energy and knowledge into trying to decipher what this virus does and how we can stop it. That gives me some hope.”

All agreed that the world needs to focus on a singular enemy: the virus.

“This is not one party against another or one state against another,” Frieden said. “This is about humans against a virus.”

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New York judge temporarily blocks release of tell-all by Trumps niece

24 0 30 Jun 2020

A New York state judge on Tuesday temporarily blocked the release of a tell-book by the niece of President Donald Trump, which paints an unflattering portrait of her uncle and the family’s history.

New York state Judge Hal Greenwald’s temporary restraining order blocks Simon & Schuster from “publishing, printing or distributing” Mary Trump’s book “Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man,” scheduled to be released July 28. In the book, the daughter of Trump’s brother, Fred Jr., paints as an “authoritative portrait of Donald J. Trump and the toxic family that made him.”

Representatives for both parties have to meet on July 10 where the judge will evaluate Robert Trump’s claims and decide whether to issue an injunction.

Robert Trump, the president’s brother, filed a suit last week in New York in Queens County Surrogate court, where the estate of the president’s father, Fred Trump Sr., was settled after his death in 1999. However, the judge quickly tossed it out because it was not the proper venue for the dispute.

Lawyers for Robert Trump quickly filed a claim in Dutchess County Supreme Court in upstate New York, where he lives. Robert Trump argues that his niece, Mary Trump, violated a confidentiality agreement that barred her from writing the kind of tell-all book that she describes. The lawsuit claims that under the conditions of settling Fred Trump Sr.’s estate no member of the family is allowed to publicly discuss their relationship with one another without permission from the family.

Mary Trump also has claimed she released Trump’s tax returns to The New York Times and plans to describe the “inner workings” of the Trump family.

Couple recorded pulling weapons on protesters outside their St. Louis home

24 0 30 Jun 2020

A husband and wife brandished firearms at protesters outside their St. Louis home during a demonstration protesting both police brutality and recent actions by Mayor Lyda Krewson, authorities said Monday.

A man holds a firearm as protesters walk through his neighborhood in St. Louis, Missouri, on June 28, 2020.Lawrence Bryant / Reuters

The incident unfolded at 7:23 p.m. CT on Sunday at the foot of Portland Place in the affluent St. Louis neighborhood of West Central End, officials said.

Police described the armed man, 63, and woman, 61, as “victims” of trespassing and fourth-degree assault.

“The victims stated they were on their property when they heard a loud commotion coming from the street,” the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department said in a statement. “When the victims went to investigate the commotion, they observed a large group of subjects forcefully break an iron gate marked with ‘No Trespassing’ and ‘Private Street’ signs.”

The neighborhood has streets with limited access that are considered private property.

“Once through the gate, the victims advised the group that they were on a private street and trespassing and told them to leave,” the police statement said. “The group began yelling obscenities and threats of harm to both victims. When the victims observed multiple subjects who were armed, they then armed themselves and contacted police.”

Albert Watkins, a lawyer for the couple — husband-and-wife attorneys Mark and Patricia McCloskey — insisted his clients were “in fear of imminent harm.”

“Both Mr. and Mrs. McCloskey acted lawfully on their property which sits on a private gated lane in the City of St. Louis,” Watkins said in a statement to NBC News. “Their actions were borne solely of fear and apprehension, the genesis of which was not race related.”

But Daniel Shular, a freelance photojournalist who was at the protest, said he didn’t see anyone breaking into the neighborhood and instead recalled seeing protesters simply strolling through an open gate.

“I kind of turned around to take some pictures of people coming through the gate, then I turned back around and by then he had his long gun in his hand,” Shular told NBC News. “And the woman came out with a pistol and started pointing it with her finger on the trigger at everybody.”

Shular said “people were just kind of yelling at” the couple, but he couldn’t clearly make out what was said.

“It was just angry sort of … people asking, ‘Why do you have a gun? It’s a peaceful protest!'” Shular said, adding that he didn’t see people yelling at the couple “until they started brandishing guns, then it got heated.”

“I really don’t remember hearing anyone yell any obscenities or anything at them until the man had the gun. He was also yelling before he had a gun in his hand,” Shular continued. “I couldn’t make out anything he said.”

Shular recalled seeing at least one armed protester, but said that’s common in demonstrations around St. Louis.

“At that time I didn’t [see weapons in the crowd at the McCloskey home] but afterwards I did see one gun once everyone made it to the mayor’s house. I saw at least one person with a semi-automatic rifle,” he said. “That’s not super out of the ordinary for the protests here. Most of the handguns are concealed because in Missouri you don’t need a permit to conceal-carry. “

The photographer said protesters kept their distance from the armed couple, staying on the sidewalk.

The attorney for Mark and Patricia McCloskey insisted his clients are supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement and only became fearful for their safety on Sunday when white protesters began to act aggressively.

“The Black Lives Matters movement is here to stay, it is the right message, and it is about time,” said Watkins. “The McCloskeys want to make sure no one thinks less of BLM, its message and the means it is employing to get its message out because of the actions of a few white individuals who tarnished a peaceful protest.”

St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner said Monday that her prosecutors are reviewing the case. But she seemed to find fault with the couple for possibly escalating tensions.

“I am alarmed at the events that occurred over the weekend, where peaceful protestors were met by guns and a violent assault,” Gardner said in a statement. “We must protect the right to peacefully protest, and any attempt to chill it through intimidation or threat of deadly force will not be tolerated.”

Sunday’s confrontation ended with no arrests or injuries, Caldwell said.

Protesters were demonstrating against Mayor Krewson, a West Central End resident, who last week infuriated police reform advocates by releasing names and home addresses of “defund the police” activists.

“Defund the police” supporters believe some taxpayer money should be taken away from local police and redirected to other public safety programs such as mental health and other social services.

Krewson apologized for releasing those names and addresses, and a representative for her office couldn’t be immediately reached for comment on Monday.

The investigation into Sunday night’s confrontation is ongoing and St. Louis police spokesman Evita Caldwell stopped short of clearing the couple of any wrongdoing, telling NBC News: ” As for whether the victims were within their rights, you would need to direct your inquiry to the courts for further.”

Still images and video of the confrontation circulated throughout social media on Sunday night and Monday morning.

Rima Abdelkader contributed.