On June 7, 2017, a St. Louis Police SWAT team raided a home on South Kingshighway. Within minutes the house was riddled with bullets and a 21-year-old young man was dead.
The police immediately described a “firefight” inside the home. They described Isaiah Hammett as “lying in wait” to ambush them, tipped off by his external home surveillance camera.
On the news the police displayed an AK-47 and alleged Isaiah fired it at them. They cited possession of guns and drugs as “probable cause” to justify their aggressive SWAT raid.
But what does the evidence tell us about the raid?
According to the family, Isaiah’s surveillance camera hasn’t functioned for years, so he was not forewarned. There was no evidence of a flash grenade the police claim they used. Family and friends also report the AK-47 was not functional.
Most alarming, an independent forensic analyst, brought in by the family for a preliminary study, supports the family’s account that no evidence indicates any bullets were fired in the direction of police. All the bullet holes point only to incoming fire.
Isaiah was the caregiver for his disabled grandfather Dennis Torres, a Vietnam vet. They shared the house.
In public statements, Isaiah’s grandfather has recalled how he was awakened by gunfire. Isaiah entered his room, retreating from his own, to pull his grandfather to safety on the floor. When he asked who was attacking, Isaiah responded, “I don’t know. I love you.”
The grandfather has further stated Isaiah entered and left his room unarmed. As Isaiah entered the dining room he was heard saying, “Please don’t shoot me.” That is where he was killed.
His grandfather observed several officers standing over Isaiah and then he heard two more shots. Bullet holes in the floor attest to the downward angle.
How many deaths will it take ’til we know….?
There are enough unanswered questions and conflicting statements by police to demand a fair and independent investigation of this shooting.
The police department’s Force Investigative Unit, created in the wake of Ferguson, is doing their analysis. The circuit attorney, in the wake of Ferguson, does a separate investigation of all officer-involved shootings, but is at least partially dependent on the police analysis. Reports from both these agencies will go to the Civilian Oversight Board (COB) for review, but the COB is dependent on those reports for its information.
Isaiah’s family must now live in a house blasted with bullet holes, blood stains, and splattered remains as they slowly raise the money to ensure their own complete forensic investigation and to bury their child.
Police have removed one of Isaiah’s two bedroom doors from the house. The family maintains all seized guns were legally purchased and were, with the exception of the broken AK-47, the grandfather’s. However, the family doesn’t know what other evidence might have been seized. The search warrant, which arrived six hours after police entry into the home, states police are required to leave an inventory of seized items. Seven weeks later, this has yet to be produced.
The Coalition of Police Crimes & Repression joins Isaiah’s family and supporters in demanding a fair investigation, including one by the Department of Justice, the release of the names of all officers involved, and prosecution of officers the investigations reveal committed wrongdoing. We also demand that these investigations explore the pattern of St. Louis’ militarized SWAT attacks, including the death of Don Clark Sr. on February 21, 2017.
Jamala Rogers and John Chasnoff are co-chairs of the Coalition Against Police Crimes and Repression.