City Council Gunman Lost Lawsuit Against City Mere Days Before Rampage

Charles Lee Thornton was a notorious presence at Kirkwood, Mo., city council meetings long before he opened fire at the latest meeting Thursday night, killing at least five people.

Thornton, known as “Cookie,” was arrested and convicted for disorderly conduct after calling city officials “jackasses” and criticizing the city’s “plantation mentality.”

Those outbursts are detailed in Thornton’s federal lawsuit against the city claiming civil rights violations. A U.S. District Court judge ruled against Thornton on Jan. 28, only 10 days before the latest council meeting turned deadly.

Police said Thursday night that Thornton shot and killed two police officers and three other city officials before officers killed him at City Hall. Two others were shot but survived, including Kirkwood Mayor Mike Swoboda, who was in critical condition late Thursday in the intensive-care unit of St. John's Mercy Hospital in Creve Coeur, hospital spokesman Bill McShane told the Associated Press. The other wounded victim, Suburban Journals newspaper reporter Todd Smith, was in satisfactory condition, McShane told AP.

Tracy Panus, a St. Louis County Police spokeswoman, said the names of the dead victims would not be released until a news conference Friday morning.

The TV station, citing a local newspaper, reported Thursday that Thornton, a contractor and a black man, had complained for years of racism and discrimination by city officials in citing him for unlicensed work.

Then on May 18, 2006, during public hearing on two local businesses, Thornton became disruptive and was asked by the mayor to sit down, according to the federal judge’s ruling. Thornton sat on the floor at the podium, refused to leave and was arrested.

Federal court documents describe a similar scene at the June 15, 2006, city council meeting.

During the public comment portion, Thornton rose and began by saying, “Jackass, jackass, jackass,” and denounced Kirkwood’s “plantation-like mentality.” When the scene escalated, he was arrested.

Thornton sued the city in 2007 alleging civil rights violations.

Judge Catherine Perry ruled against Thornton, saying didn’t have a first amendment right “to engage in irrelevant debate and to voice repetitive, personal, virulent attacks against Kirkwood and its city officials” during public hearings and meetings. interviewed a woman identified as Thornton’s mother who said he hadn’t come to her with his problems, but she was aware of her son’s complaints against the city.

“He has gone through this for so many years, and they just kept giving him tickets for every little thing they could,” the woman said, adding that she suspected Thornton targeted the city officials because he felt they had “done him harm.”