ST. LOUIS (AP) — Two St. Louis police officers acted in self-defense and won't be charged in the fatal shooting of a 25-year-old man who was armed with a steak knife as he approached the officers and urged them to shoot him, the city's prosecutor said Tuesday.
Kajieme Powell was shot 12 times by officers in August 2014, while the region was on edge amid protests stemming from the fatal police shooting days earlier of 18-year-old Michael Brown in nearby Ferguson. In response, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce assembled a team of her staff prosecutors to review Powell's shooting.
Joyce said Powell's death was tragic, but that her prosecutors reviewed evidence and concluded the officers were justified in opening fire after Powell ignored their demands to drop the knife. Powell was within 15 feet of one officer when police first opened fire, then advanced another 10 feet before collapsing on the sidewalk, according to their 28-page report.
"Under the circumstances, it was reasonable for the officers to believe that Powell was advancing on (one of them) to inflict serious physical injury or to commit the forcible felony of assault against one or both of the officers," Joyce's report read. "Therefore, prosecutors conclude that the officers could have reasonably believed the use of deadly force was necessary to protect them from Powell."
Tests showed that Powell, who appeared agitated in cellphone video of the incident, had no drugs in his system. Joyce's report said there was no evidence Powell suffered from a mental illness, but by law "an aggressor's mental state does not change a person's legal ability to protect him or herself from that aggressor."
St. Louis police turned over their reports to Joyce's office in February without requesting criminal charges. Without elaborating, Joyce said she chose not to present the case to a grand jury.
A message left Tuesday with the Powell family's attorney, Jermaine Wooten, wasn't immediately returned. A pending wrongful-death lawsuit filed by Powell's mother alleges her son "posed no threat to anyone."
The officers were identified Tuesday as Nicholas Shelton and Ellis Brown. Their attorney, Brian Millikan, said his clients were "relieved" by Tuesday's outcome.
"Hopefully they can try to move on from this incident," Millikan said.
Powell was shot 10 days after a white Ferguson police officer fatally shot Michael Brown, who was black. Brown's death touched off prolonged protests, occasional riots and a national dialogue about race and policing, fueling the "Black Lives Matter" movement.
St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson said in a statement that he was confident Joyce's report was the result of a "comprehensive and thorough review" of all the facts and evidence in the case.
"Open and honest dialogue is paramount in maintaining the community's trust in its police department," Dotson said. "I have pledged transparency to the citizens of St. Louis and am committed to upholding this promise."
Dotson has said that the use a stun gun on Powell wasn't an option against a potentially deadly weapon, and that Powell was wearing a coat that might have stopped the probes.