On the Saturday afternoon that 23-year-old Terry J. Tillman was killed in an officer-involved shooting near the St. Louis Galleria on August 31, three unnamed women found themselves unintentionally inside the crime scene.
The window of the beauty salon has reflective glass, so the women could see out while police couldn’t see in. And one of them started capturing video on her cellphone.
The video, which the woman released to Real STL News, shows a Richmond Heights Police SUV pulling up outside Christopher’s Hair Salon, which is inside the Simmons Bank building at Clayton Road and Cheshire Drive. One officer took a gun from within the SUV and with a gloved hand walked it to the upper level of the adjacent parking lot — where Tillman’s body lay. The officer was walking a gun towards the crime scene.
“They’ve got to get that weapon to that crime scene,” said Amir Brandy, Ferguson activist and co-founder of Real STL News, “because if Terry Tillman’s reason for being dead is that he pointed a gun at an officer, at the end of the day, that gun should be in close proximity to where he was killed.”
Brandy showed the video at a press conference held jointly by several community organizations, including the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, International Black Freedom Alliance, Organization For Black Struggle, Progressive National Baptist Convention, Universal African Peoples Organization (UAPO) and others.
Apparently the police thought the bank was closed and didn’t know a salon was inside, Brandy said, because when the three women tried to leave the salon, police aggressively questioned them about what they saw. They even asked for their cell phones, which the women refused to surrender.
According to St. Louis County Police, at approximately 3 p.m. on August 31, a uniformed Richmond Heights police officer saw a man inside the St. Louis Galleria mall with a handgun protruding from his waistband. The officer approached Tillman and “advised him of the Galleria’s Zero Tolerance Policy on guns,” police said.
While they were speaking, Tillman suddenly ran away from the officer and the officer chased him. Tillman had a felony on his record and was committing a Class D felony by carrying the firearm he had brought to the mall.
At some point, Tillman dropped his gun inside the mall. Police said Tillman reached down and picked the gun back up. However, family members believe Tillman kept running without retrieving the gun. The officer chased Tillman across the street of the Galleria to the parking garage for Simmons Bank.
“While at the parking garage, the Richmond Heights police officer utilized his department-issued firearm, striking the suspect,” police said. Police claimed that Tillman had his gun raised when the officer shot him.
The Clayton Police Department requested the assistance of the St. Louis County Police Department. The incident is now under investigation by the St. Louis County Police Department’s Bureau of Crimes Against Persons Unit.
Sgt. Benjamin Granda, spokesman for the St. Louis County Police, reviewed the woman’s video and the comments made by Brandy. In response, he said in an email to The St. Louis American, “The actions taken by law enforcement on scene, including the securing of Mr. Tillman’s weapon after the shooting, were known and have been documented in the investigation.”
According to attorney Jerryl Christmas, Tillman had just been shot when the women started capturing video. The police officers should have been preserving the crime scene and waiting until investigators arrived, he said. The people who are normally in charge of securing weapons are evidence technicians, he said.
“It’s clear that St. Louis County hasn’t arrived yet,” Christmas said.
The City of Richmond Heights city manager and police chief responded to the video in a statement late Monday evening, stating that the city has been aware of this bystander’s video.
“This footage is being used purely for conspiracy claims, to confuse, and to fuel distrust and anger in the St. Louis community,” it states. “The integrity of the crime scene is not in question. Mr. Tillman was alive after the shooting and officers quickly performed CPR trying to save him. It is well documented that his gun was secured during this time.”
Richmond Heights officials added: “The police-involved shooting of Mr. Tillman was a sad and tragic event. Our thoughts and condolences continue to go out to Mr. Tillman’s family. All involved are trying to emotionally heal.”
However, the family cannot heal without seeing the police investigation and footage from the incident, advocates said. Rev. Darryl Gray, a civil rights activist and Stockley verdict protest leader, said that law enforcement and St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell should have met with the family by now and been giving them updates – “for nothing else, to form a relationship of trust.”
“This community does not automatically trust police,” Gray said. “Contamination of crime scenes is not new in this city, this region or in this country.”
Granda previously said police were seeking footage from the 158 surveillance cameras within the mall. The Ethical Society of Police, a police association that advocates for racial equity in policing, tweeted after the press conference, “The public has justified concerns. These incidents are always tragic. The shooting could be justified or not justified, but if there’s video to refute or prove the officer’s actions, it needs to be released.”
When asked when those videos will be released, Granda said, “The video will be released when it’s appropriate to do so. The investigation remains ongoing, and we are optimistic that it will be presented to the St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office in the near future.”
Andrea Martin, Tillman’s mother, said the holidays have been hard for her and the family.
“Terry was great young man,” she said. “He was expecting his first baby. Terry was a caring young man, and he was a good son to me.”
Tillman’s stepfather, Darryl Martin, said the family wants justice.
“We can understand an officer protecting oneself,” he said. “But you can’t protect yourself if there’s no threat. And all I want is justice for my son because there was no threat to them. They could have just left him to come home to us but they took him instead.”