Officers will not face charges in August 2014 shooting death of Kajieme Powell
Updated at 5 p.m. Tuesday with comments from prosecutors. Two St. Louis Metropolitan Police officers will not face criminal charges in the death of a 25-year-old man who was killed less than two weeks after the shooting death of Michael Brown.
Kajieme Powell was shot and killed outside a convenience store in the city’s North Point neighborhood on Aug. 19, 2014, after he advanced with a knife on officers who had responded to a disturbance call.
"Prosecutors have determined that a criminal violation against either officer could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Therefore charges will not be filed in this case,” circuit attorney Jennifer Joyce concluded in a report released Tuesday. "It is a tragedy that a life was lost in this incident."
Officers Ellis Brown and Nicholas Shelton responded to the Six Stars Market on Riverview Boulevard after Powell took snacks and energy drinks from the store without paying for them and allegedly threatened to kill a store clerk who asked him about the theft. Witnesses who called 911 told dispatchers that Powell had a knife, but did not include any information about his mental state, the report said.
Powell was shot multiple times after he advanced toward them carrying the knife, allegedly ignoring orders to drop the weapon. He also yelled at the officers to shoot him, the report said. Ballistics evidence found that both Brown and Shelton fired six shots.
Joyce's investigators interviewed a dozen witnesses and reviewed police, ballistics, laboratory and medical examiner reports, as well as a 3-D spatial analysis rendering conducted by a third party. Perhaps the most scrutinized piece of evidence was a cellphone video taken by a bystander, who had gone to the store after being told by a friend that Powell had stolen the items from it.
Note: this contains both graphic language and violence.
Mental health concerns
Brown and Shelton, who are both white, graduated from the police academy in 2011. One officer had undergone Crisis Intervention Training, a special module for dealing with individuals who might have mental illness, before Powell's shooting. The second officer had not received the specialized training. Joyce's report does not make clear which officer is which.
“Some people have publicly suggested that the officers knew or should have known Powell’s mental state,” the report said. “There is no evidence to suggest that officer knew Powell was suffering from a mental illness or ailment, and no evidence has been provided to police or prosecutors that Powell was suffering from a mental illness or ailment. Under the law, however, an aggressor’s mental state does not change a person’s legal ability to protect him or herself from that aggressor.”
The first officer told police investigators that he initially reached for his Taser, but felt that the situation was unfolding so fast he would not have time to deploy the weapon. He also felt that Powell’s hooded sweatshirt meant the Taser would be ineffective. Both officers said they had been trained to use deadly force against a person carrying a knife if that individual came within 21 feet.
Neither officer agreed to speak to investigators with the circuit attorney’s office. Cynthia Copeland, the chief prosecutor for the force investigate unit, said that's not unusual.
"That is their right, and I don't think that we were surprised that's how they chose to handle it," Copeland said. "It would have been helpful always to talk to anyone who has an eyewitness account, but I believe that with the information we got, we do have a clear picture of what occurred."
The circuit attorney’s office also attempted to interview Powell’s grandmother, requests the report said were declined by the grandmother’s attorney, Jermaine Wooten. The family filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the department and the city in August 2015.
Wooten and Brian Millikan, an attorney for the officers, did not immediately respond to calls for comment. In a statement, Chief Sam Dotson said he believed Joyce's report and its conclusions were "the result of a comprehensive and thorough review of the incident and all the facts and evidence presented."
Powell's report is the second one to be released under the department’s new policy on use-of-force investigations, in which Joyce reviews all officer-involved shootings regardless of whether police believe charges should be filed. Earlier this year, Joyce declined to charge an off-duty officer in the death of VonDerrit Myers Jr., who was shot and killed in the Shaw neighborhood in October 2014.
In August, on the anniversary of his death, Powell's family and supporters gathered at the courthouse demanding to know why the investigation took so long. Copeland said the office was already in the middle of the Myers investigation when it received the material on Powell's killing from the police, and wanted to complete that report first.
Joyce, the circuit attorney said she believed the new force investigation unit protocol is providing the level of transparency promised.
"There are some people on the end of the spectrum who believe that any police officers who are involved in a shooting should be charged with a crime," Joyce said. "And I also believe that there are people way on the other end of the spectrum who believe that the police should never be charged with any crime whatsoever. We are looking at the facts and the law, and presenting an unbiased and meticulous report, and I think that most people there in the middle really want a second look at those matters."
Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann