Officers will not face charges in death of Mansur Ball-Bey
Updated at 5:15 p.m. with comments from the family and prosecutor Jennifer Joyce. - Two St. Louis Metropolitan Police officers will not face criminal charges for the August 2015 shooting death of a young man in the Fountain Park neighborhood.
Mansur Ball-Bey, 18, was shot and killed on Aug. 19 after he allegedly pointed a gun at special operations unit officers executing a search warrant in the 1200 block of Walton. It was a year to the day after Kajieme Powell was shot and killed after pulling a knife on police.
"We are very concerned when an 18-year-old loses their life under any circumstances, but particularly at the hands of a police officer," said prosecutor Jennifer Joyce in an afternoon press conference. "We ultimately concluded that we did not have enough evidence to prosecute this case." She said the testimony from the officers and a credible eyewitness was backed up by physical evidence.
"I’m not saying that this shooting was justified. I would not say that," she said. "I am saying that based on the evidence that we have, there is no way that any criminal charges could be brought against these two officers."
Joyce said she had concerns about the way the search warrant was executed tactically. In a statement, St. Louis police chief Sam Dotson said the department was reviewing those tactics.
Ball-Bey's family blasted the lack of charges.
"There was enough evidence that could have put these officers behind bars," said Todd El, the grand sheik of the Moorish Science Temple of America #5, where the Ball-Bey family worships. "[Joyce] chose to be a jury, she chose to make a decision without even allowing the people the opportunity to see the evidence in regards to this case."
Jermaine Wooten, an attorney for the family, said he believed officers planted the gun investigators found next to a nearby trash bin. It had Ball-Bey's palm print on it, and prosecutors said social media and text messages also connected him to the gun.
"I'm not de-legitimizing the photographs," Wooten said. "If Mansur had possessed that gun at some point in the past, he did not possess that gun on that particular day."
Wooten said the family is still weighing its next steps.
Details of the shooting
The incident unfolded like this:
- Around 11:30 a.m. on Aug. 19, Special Operations officers, members of the SLMPD SWAT team, and agents with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives gathered to execute a search warrant for guns and drugs.
- Ball-Bey and a friend were observed running from the scene as the warrant was being executed.
- Officers Kyle Chandler and Ronald Vaughan chased Ball-Bey and the the friend after they spotted Ball-Bey with a gun.
- Ball-Bey was shot once after he allegedly raised a gun at the officers. Chandler fired the fatal shot. Vaughan also fired his weapon, but missed.
- Ball-Bey's spinal cord was injured, but not severed, in the shooting — the medical examiner wrote the damage the bullet caused to Ball-Bey's heart was the cause of death.
Chandler, 33, who fired the fatal shot, has been on the force since July 2008. Vaughan, 29, joined the department three months later.
Joyce's 43-page report to the community centered around two versions of answers to five critical questions:
- Where were Ball-Bey and his friend before the incident took place?
- Did Ball-Bey have a gun?
- Did police identify themselves as officers?
- Did Ball-Bey point his gun at the officers?
- Where were five key witnesses when the officers fired their weapons?
Where were Ball-Bey and his friend?
Ball-Bey's friend gave two different versions of where the young men were before the shooting happened, but said both times they were not inside the apartment. An ATF assigned to the search warrant, and a second independent witness said they saw two men run from the back of the apartment, and text messages from Ball-Bey's phone showed he was with a resident of the apartment the night before the shooting.
Did Ball-Bey have a gun?
Ball-Bey's friend denied to police and prosecutors several times that Ball-Bey was carrying a weapon when the two ran. But the eyewitness and the officers involved in the shooting said they saw Ball-Bey leave the apartment with a gun in his hand, and his palm print was found on the magazine of a .40 caliber handgun found near the scene. Social media photos and text messages also connected Ball-Bey to that gun.
Police also found two other handguns near the scene, but it was not clear if they were connected to the case.
Did police identify themselves as officers?
Ball-Bey's friend initially told investigators that he had an idea the men chasing them were police officers, but later changed his statement. The eyewitness said the officers and the ATF agent were wearing marked vests, and that he heard the one of the officers tell the two men, "Police, stop." One officer said he heard the other ordering Ball-Bey and his friend to stop.
Did Ball-Bey point his gun at the officers?
Ball-Bey's friend continued to say that Ball-Bey did not have a gun, and that he never looked back during the chase. The eyewitness said he yelled at police to tell them Ball-Bey had a weapon, and saw Ball-Bey extend his arm with the weapon in hand, though he could not tell where the gun was positioned because Ball-Bey had turned around. The ATF agent was not in a position where he could see the shooting or what happened immediately prior to the shooting.
Both officers said they saw Ball-Bey raise the weapon, and feared he was going to shoot them. They "fired independently of each other when they said they saw a threat."
Where were the witnesses when shots were fired?
Ball-Bey's friend gave various accounts of where he was when shots were fired, but in all of them, he said he heard but did not see the shots. Physical evidence found at the scene, including shell casings, contradicted one of his accounts.
The eyewitness said he ducked behind a dumpster when shots were fired, but heard several shots in succession before it stopped. The ATF agent was also not in a position where he could see the shooting.
Chandler took cover behind a telephone pole and saw Ball-Bey raise the gun toward Vaughan. Chandler said he fired one round from about 15-20 feet away, but did not know if Vaughan also fired a shot.
"One of the biggest challenges we face in this case is that there is no independent, credible witness we can put in front of a grand jury or regular jury who contradicts police statements. None of the other witnesses had a clear view at the moment when Ball-Bey was shot," Joyce said in her written statement.
The report noted that in 2013, Ronald Vaughan was accused of planting drugs on a suspect he and Chandler had arrested for possession in 2011. A judge ruled that Vaughan's credibility was questionable, and the circuit attorney dismissed the charges. A federal civil rights case against the two officers is still pending.
"We looked into the credibility of all of the witnesses," Joyce said. "Weighing all the evidence — all the witness statements, including an independent eyewitness, the forensic evidence, the ShotSpotter evidence, everything pointed in one direction."
Could Ball-Bey continue running after he was shot?
During an initial autopsy, medical examiners found that Ball-Bey's spinal cord had been completely separated at the 9th vertebrae. When news reports disclosed this fact a week after the shooting, an attorney for the family immediately asked how Ball-Bey was able to run after he was he shot, and called the credibility of the officers into question.
Later examination, however, determined that the cord had been damaged by the bullet, not completely cut. The medical examiner, Dr. Michael Graham, consulted with several specialists, and determined that the separation occurred after the shooting — "by the movement of Ball-Bey running, the pressure put on him while he was being handcuffed, or the movement of the body for transport and examination after he was already dead."
Another Special Operations detective who helped cuff Ball-Bay after he was shot said Ball-Bay was rolling from side to side, moving his hands and head, and using his feet to plant in the ground.
In a statement, St. Louis Metropolitan Police Chief Sam Dotson said, “Police Officer Kyle Chandler, who fired the fatal shot, and Police Officer Ronald Vaughan, who also fired his weapon but did not strike Ball-Bey, will not be charged. Both Officer Chandler and Officer Vaughan each have nearly eight years of service on the police force. The investigation is now subject to the second phase of the FIU's process; an after-action review of deadly force incidents which includes, but is not limited to, assessing tactical training.
“We appreciate the community's patience as both our department and the Circuit Attorney's Office conducted thorough investigations into this incident. I have pledged transparency to the citizens of St. Louis and will continue to uphold this promise.”
Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann