Another city has decided not to indict the shooters in an officer-involved citizen death, and activists are not happy about it.
This week, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer M. Joyce announced that she would not be filing criminal charges against Nicholas Shelton and Ellis Brown, the two St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department (SLMPD) officers who shot and killed 25-year-old Kajieme Powell on August 19, 2014. Witness video showed the white officers shoot Powell within 23 seconds of arriving at the gas station were the mentally ill man allegedly stole two energy drinks and a snack. The autopsy showed that Powell, who was black, had 13 entry wounds. The SLMPD’s early version of the story said that Powell walked to within three or four feet of the officers while holding a knife with an “overhand grip,” but the video showed he was much farther away and holding the (witness-disputed) knife at his side.
The case did not go to a grand jury for consideration, as in the cases of Tamir Rice and Michael Brown. Instead, a team of prosecutors and Circuit Attorney’s Office staff reviewed the video; reports from the police, medical examiners and ballistics; 911 and dispatch calls; and a 3-D spatial analysis of the scene. Ultimately they decided that the officers did not break the law in killing Powell, saying in a statement:
Under the law, Officer 1’s deadly force was a legal act of self-defense. Prosecutors further conclude that Officer 2’s deadly force was a legal act to protect Officer 1. Section 563.063 authorizes the use of force in defense of others, including deadly force, where appropriate. Though acting as law enforcement officers at the time, had either Officer 1 or Officer 2 been acting in any other capacity, or simply walking down the street when Powell approached them in this manner, both would still have been legally justified in using deadly force.
As is their role, prosecutors must only determine if a violation of criminal law occurred. Given the available facts, video, witness statements, physical and forensic evidence, and for the reasons outlined in the discussion of the official report, prosecutors have determined a criminal violation against either officer could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Therefore, charges will not be filed in this case.
But St. Louis-based racial justice group Organization for Black Struggle takes issue with the decision and what it calls a lack of accountability from local public officials. It also linked Powell’s death and that of 18-year-old Amonderez Green last week to a culture that uses force to address mental illness.
“There needs to be a fundamental shift in the way police respond to incidents involving mental health,” Montague Simmons, executive director of the Organization for Black Struggle said in a press release sent to Colorlines. “Police authorities should not be the community’s only resource when mental and social service crisis happen, when they must be deployed they should be required to utilize non-lethal de-escalation techniques and prioritize the preservation of life.”
The group has pressed St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay and SLMPD Chief Sam Dotson to attend a November 23 public accountability meeting where activists will seek confirmation that they will follow through on the recommendations published in the Ferguson Commission’s report. Among those recommendations are that the attorney general be assigned as the special prosecutor for all officer-involved deaths and a review of the use of force standards.
“The community wants to see their public officials at this meeting as it is imperative that they support any and all measures that will help protect our communities from violent over-policing and police shootings of civilians,” the Organization for Black Struggle press release concluded.
(H/t The St. Louis American)