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Video in Richmond Heights killing condemns police, activists say

WEST END – Family members of Terry Tillman, the 23-year-old black man fatally shot by a Richmond Heights Police officer in a garage near the Galleria Mall sat angrily but emboldened Monday in a packed church basement.

It served as the venue of an “urgent” town hall meeting at St. Paul A.M.E. Church at 1206 Hamilton Ave. The meeting was called by activists armed with what they believe to be new and damning video evidence of police wrongdoing. The videotape shows parts of a live crime scene in death of Tillman in August. 

He had run from the mall after the officer, who had noticed that Tillman was carrying a gun magazine, informed him of the mall’s zero-tolerance gun policy. 

Officers pursued Tillman to the top of the Simmons Bank garage on Clayton Road. That’s where they say he raised a gun, prompting one of them to shoot him. 

Although the garage was said to have cameras, the family said they hadn’t been allowed to view any footage from them. They did, however, see video on Monday. That cellphone video footage, acquired by Real STL news producer Amir Brandy, shows a Richmond Heights car arriving at the scene, which had already been secured. 

An officer is seen exiting the police cruiser, wearing gloves and carrying a gun toward where Tillman’s body lay. Another part of the video seems to show that before that, there hadn’t been a gun near Tillman.

“They orchestrated the crime scene and made it how they want it to be,” lawyer and activist Jerry Christmas said. “It’s the perfect example of a crime being staged,” he said, adding that “whoever controls the crime scene, controls the narrative.”  

Brandy said, “They’ve got to get that weapon to that crime scene 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.” 

Tillman’s family members have been asking law enforcement since September for proof that he pointed a gun at them. 

“Our family is demanding proof that he was pointing a gun,” Tillman’s sister, Rachel Jones, said at a press conference then. 

The shooting is currently being investigated by the St. Louis County Police Department’s Bureau of Crimes Against Persons unit. That department, including Clayton Police and others, was dispatched to the chase. 

The family is now demanding that the cellphone video be used as evidence in the investigation into the validity of the shooting. 

The Richmond Heights police department, however, maintains that the officer who shot Tillman was justified. Police saw the new video for the first time on Monday but said in a statement that they “had been aware of the bystander’s video…” 

Also in the statement, they said it was well-documented that the gun had been removed at the time that Tillman was receiving CPR. They also said, “The integrity of the crime scene is not in question.”

Christmas, however, points out that the gun should have been there until crime scene investigators arrived. 

Tillman’s family members believe he dropped his gun when he took off running from the mall. 

Because Tillman was a felon, his possession of a gun was illegal.

The department release said the video footage was “being used purely for conspiracy claims, to confuse and to fuel distrust and anger in the St. Louis community.”

At the town hall meeting, the Rev. Darryl Gray noted that many black residents didn’t trust the police.

And mass decarceration activist Willie Boyd said, “Everybody can see that the police was carrying the gun to the scene.”

“They always say they had a gun. Well, why didn’t he shoot the police then?” Boyd asked. He called on St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell to look at footage from all of the cameras in the area. 

Regarding the new footage, Universal African Peoples Organization activist Zaki Baruti urged that everyone “look at the video footage for yourself and tell me what you see.” 

The footage is available on the Real STL’s facebook page. 

“I’m pissed,” activist Anthony Shahid said after watching the video. He then called out “good police,” saying that his problem with them was, “y’all don’t say nothing.”

Continuing, he said, “We always have to prove something. I’m not anti-police, but some police are crooked. You don’t have to see the tape. I don’t trust y’all asses,” Shahid continued, offering to leave the church if necessary because of his hostile language.

Bill Beene Bill Beene was born and raised in north St. Louis. He has been a journalist for 12 years. He enjoys cooking and roller skating. He lives in the historic Ville neighborhood.

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