No charges will be filed against the St. Louis police officer who fatally shot 18-year-old VonDerrit Myers Jr. in October, in large part because Myers had a gun and is believed to have fired at the officer, prosecutors announced Monday.
The lawyer representing Myers' family disputed their account and said he plans to file a civil suit.
Two guns were fired during the Oct. 8 confrontation between Myers and off-duty Officer Jason Flanery, with shots coming from both directions, the St. Louis circuit attorney’s office said. “No witness claims to have seen [the officer] alter evidence in any way,” and witnesses who spoke to police said Myers had stolen the Smith & Wesson gun used that night from them, the prosecutors said.
Police initially said that Myers fired three times at Flanery and that the officer fired 17 rounds in response, hitting Myers seven or eight times. Myers’ family has disagreed, saying he was holding a sandwich and not a gun.
“This is a tragic situation for our entire community, and my thoughts and prayers remain with the Myers family. I know their loss is heartbreaking,” St. Louis Circuit Atty. Jennifer M. Joyce said Monday in a statement.
Jerryl Christmas, the attorney representing Myers’ family, told the Los Angeles Times on Monday that he believes the gun was planted on Myers.
“Flanery is lying when he said he was in a gun battle,” Christmas said. “He shot this boy seven times from behind.”
Myers was hit eight times, according to the report prosecutors released Monday: There were six entrance wounds in the backs of Myers' legs and two on the right side of his body, one in the hip area and one in the head. The report says the trajectories of the bullets in his legs and hip were upward, indicating they were fired from a lower angle, and the trajectory of the bullet in his head was leftward.
Christmas also contended that the witness who said Myers stole the weapon is not credible.
“This young man never even reported that that gun was stolen from him,” he said. “He has a history of contact with the criminal justice system, so it’s easy to get him to flip and say something.”
Unlike in other recent, high-profile police shooting cases, prosecutors chose not to use a grand jury to determine whether Flanery should be charged.
According to the prosecutors’ report, this is how events unfolded:
Flanery was working an approved secondary job as a security guard, wearing his police uniform, carrying a 9-millimeter department-issued Beretta handgun and driving a retired police car that was marked with the security company’s name.
Myers was walking with a group of young men near a market when they saw the security car Flanery was driving, the report says.
According to the report, surveillance video shows Myers buying a sandwich at the market, and a witness told police that Myers finished it before encountering the officer.
When Flanery spotted Myers, the report says, Myers began running and later yelled expletives and grabbed at his waistband before tussling with Flanery. He later slipped away, running up a hill before turning around to face the officer, it says.
Myers pulled out what Flanery believed was a handgun, according to the report, but Flanery said he didn’t fire at that point, telling investigators he “wanted to be sure” it was a gun.
According to the officer’s account, Myers shot at him with both hands on the gun before Flanery returned fire.
Ballistics evidence confirmed that two guns were fired that night, the report says, and there is “no evidence” that the police officer fired both. Witnesses also told police that they saw gunfire coming from both directions, and gunshot residue was found on Myers’ hands and clothes.
According to the report, Flanery said he was unsure how many times he shot at Myers but believed he shot 12 to 16 times before reloading his gun and firing twice more.
Bullets were found on the ground near where Flanery was standing, as well as in a car behind the officer, the report says.
Flanery later recovered a 9-mm Smith & Wesson handgun next to Myers’ body, the report says.
Flanery, 31, declined to speak to the circuit attorney’s office during the investigation, so prosecutors relied only on the statement he made to the St. Louis Municipal Police Department, the report said.
The officer was convicted of a misdemeanor for unlawful use of a weapon in 2001, the prosecutors’ report said. He has been a member of the Police Department for more than six years, the department said in a statement.
The death of Myers, a young black man, at the hands of a white police officer had struck a chord among many community members and activists, especially because it came after the police shooting death of Michael Brown in nearby Ferguson, Mo. Myers’ name has been used as a rallying cry, but it did not gain as much prominence as the names of others who have been killed by police.