A Ladue police officer has been charged with second-degree assault for shooting a suspected shoplifter in the parking lot of a Schnucks grocery store.
“A person commits the offense of assault in the second degree if he or she recklessly causes physical injury to another person by means of discharge of a firearm,” St. Louis County prosecutor Wesley Bell said Wednesday in announcing the charge against officer Julia Crews. “It is our position that the officer’s actions were reckless.”
Crews, 37, responded to the theft call at the Ladue Crossing Schnucks on April 23, police and prosecutors say. While she was attempting to arrest a woman who was suspected of being involved, the woman ran.
Crews gave chase while warning the woman she would use her Taser, Bell said. Instead, the woman was shot once. Her family said she remains in a local hospital.
Crews’ attorney, Travis Noble, said the shooting was a tragic accident. Crews genuinely thought she had drawn her Taser, he said.
“She’s devastated,” Noble said. “Officer Crews is not saying, ‘I was in fear of my life, and I was justified to shoot,’ and everybody else is going, 'Well, this is not a justified shooting. She would tell you, ‘I didn’t mean to shoot.’”
The decision to charge Crews was thoroughly reviewed, Bell said.
“The overwhelming number of officers that carry that badge do so in the right manner with the right intentions,” he said. “With any case, we’re going to go with the facts and law guide us. I don’t know if there’s any lessons.”
Crews turned herself in on Wednesday and was expected to post a $2,000 bond. She is on administrative leave from the Ladue department, where she has been an officer for more than a decade.
No one else has been charged in the case, but Bell said the investigation is ongoing, and the woman who was shot could face criminal charges as well.
New policy for officer-involved shootings
The decision to charge Crews was the first time Bell had turned to a new volunteer external review committee he has appointed to look at difficult cases and make recommendations on whether to file charges. It will consist of former judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys.
In the Crews case, “law enforcement, our team, our office, and the entire external review committee agreed that charges should be filed,” Bell said.
That committee currently has three members — retired Missouri appeals court Judge Lisa Van Amburg, and two municipal judges, Felica Ezell-Gillespie and Jack Duepner. Ezell-Gillespie was previously a defense attorney, and Duepner worked in the prosecutor’s office. Bell said the committee may expand to five people.
Bell also announced Wednesday that he plans to create a new unit in his office that will report directly to him and focus solely on officer-misconduct cases as well as possible wrongful convictions. Though he is asking the St. Louis County Council for additional money to start the new unit, he said he would reallocate money if necessary to get it up and running.
Bell campaigned on a promise to “assign an independent special prosecutor in order to hold police equally accountable as the general public.” The new unit is not a departure from that promise, he said.
“What we indicated was that we wanted to establish independent review,” he said. “The concern that we have is that if we find a special prosecutor that we hire on each of these cases, that would be an undue burden on taxpayers.”
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