Rally seeks answers on St. Louis police shootings

Gina Torres, seated, gets a hug from Bridgette Perkins during a rally in St. Louis Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018, demanding that a police internal investigations unit complete its probe into the fatal police shooting of Torres' son, Isaiah Hammett. Hammett was killed in a SWAT raid at his home in June 2017. Perkins' son, Isiah Perkins, also was killed by a St. Louis officer, in July 2017. (AP Photo/Jim Salter)

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Supporters of a St. Louis man killed in a SWAT raid at his home 15 months ago rallied Thursday to demand answers about the internal police investigation of his death.

The police department’s Force Investigation Unit launched an investigation shortly after the death of 21-year-old Isaiah Hammett on June 7, 2017, but has not disclosed its findings.

A small group of supporters gathered outside police headquarters on what would have been Hammett’s 23rd birthday. They called on the city’s Civilian Oversight Board to investigate why internal probes of police shootings take so long.

Rally organizer John Chasnoff said at least two other cases where suspects were shot by St. Louis police remain unresolved more than a year later. He also questioned why a SWAT team was sent to the home to serve a search warrant on a suspect with a record of only misdemeanors.

“This case is an egregious instance of the use of SWAT,” Chasnoff said. “This militarized approach needs to stop.”

Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner said in a statement that that Force Investigation Unit on July 25 turned over evidence related to Hammett’s case and other officer-involved shootings, and the evidence is under review. But the statement indicated Gardner isn’t sure she’s seen all the evidence.

“It would be premature to conclude that we have the entirety of the evidence required to make a final decision in this case,” she said.

Gardner and the police department have a testy relationship. Last month, Gardner confirmed her office developed an “exclusion list” of 28 police officers who won’t be permitted as primary witnesses in criminal cases over unspecified credibility concerns.

Police spokeswoman Michelle Woodling defended the pace of internal investigations of police shootings, saying in a statement that the process can be lengthy “as detectives conduct thorough investigations.”

The seven-member Civilian Oversight Board investigates complaints about the city police department. It was established in 2015, months after the 2014 fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, raised concerns about police shootings in the St. Louis region.

Hammett had a criminal record, but his convictions were misdemeanors for stealing and marijuana possession. He was on probation for one of the drug convictions when officers went to the home he shared with his grandfather to serve a search warrant — Hammett was under investigation for the sale of guns and drugs.

Then-Chief Lawrence O’Toole said at the time that eight SWAT team members announced their presence, broke down the door and threw in a “flash-bang” diversion device.

When the officers entered, Hammett fired several shots with an AK-47 rifle and officers returned fire, police said. No officers were injured.

Chasnoff said Thursday that there was no evidence that Hammett fired at police, but officers fired at least 100 rounds at Hammett. Chasnoff said relatives told him that Hammett’s assault rifle was not operational and was in a box at the time of the shooting.

Police said that in the addition to an AK-47, they recovered 14 other weapons and marijuana at Hammett’s home.

Hammett’s mother, Gina Torres, said she came to the rally to stand up for her son and others killed by police.

“No mother should ever have to go through what I’m going through,” Torres said.

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