Who's Next?

Annette Green didn't have to die. Her death was a tragedy waiting to happen in St. Louis County's reckless war against two-bit drug dealers and addicts.

Despite the flawed affidavit and evidence that Green's home was a small pond with tiny fish, police prepared to hit the house as if Pablo Escobar lived there. Helmeted officers donned extra-heavy Kevlar vests and armed themselves with submachine guns while Shepard, Officer Christopher Steib and a third officer drove by the house to gather last-minute intelligence and make sure they had the address straight. As point man on the nine-officer entry team, Steib's job was most critical. He would be first through the door and would head for what he perceived as the most threatening area.

When the three officers returned to the academy, they briefed their colleagues on what to expect, with Shepard warning that a gun had been found during the previous raid and that drugs or weapons might be hidden just outside an upstairs front window. The plan, essentially standard operating procedure for the St. Louis County Police Department's Tactical Operations Unit, was relatively simple: Steib would knock on the door and yell, "Police! Search warrant!" Within seconds, two officers would break down the door with a ram. Then police would swarm through the house, guns drawn, to find and handcuff anyone inside before they could destroy drugs or grab weapons. In this particular case, a sergeant would stand outside, watching the front window. If anyone inside made a move, he'd radio an alert. Meanwhile, masked officers assigned to the county Multi-Jurisdictional Drug Task Force would stand in the back yard, ready in case anyone tried to flee.

The briefing concluded, officers piled into a van and headed to Green's house, about 15 minutes away. As they left, they called the Wellston police and told the local cops they were coming. They would have to hurry. State law mandates that search warrants be executed, if at all possible, during daylight hours. It was 5 o'clock. Already canceled twice for lack of manpower and daylight, the warrant, signed a week earlier, would expire in three days.

Standing in front of the home where his mother was shot, Lavon Williams says he wants to ask Officer Christopher Steib why he fired.
Jennifer Silverberg
Standing in front of the home where his mother was shot, Lavon Williams says he wants to ask Officer Christopher Steib why he fired.
St. Louis County Police Chief Ron Battelle: "We were there because citizens sent us there. Do you not want us to fight the drug problem in St. Louis County?"
Jennifer Silverberg
St. Louis County Police Chief Ron Battelle: "We were there because citizens sent us there. Do you not want us to fight the drug problem in St. Louis County?"

The officers parked just south of the home so no one would see them, but their best efforts at surprise failed. When the van pulled up, Green was chatting on the phone with a neighbor and happened to look out a window. "Hey, the police are here," Green said, then hung up the phone. Before they reached the front door, officers knew they'd been made. As they advanced toward the house, the sergeant assigned to the front window saw someone move the blinds aside and peer out. "County police! Search warrant!" the sergeant yelled as his colleagues ran for the porch. He also radioed what he'd seen. An officer in the backyard also saw someone look outside.

Once the cops were at the door, Steib knocked and yelled, "County police, search warrant!" Then the two-man ram team broke down the door. Relying on flashlights attached to their guns, officers poured into the dimly lit house, shouting "Police!" and ordering people to lie on the ground or put their hands in the air. Steib went left and headed for the stairs, once again yelling, "County police, search warrant!" as he placed his foot on the first step. That was when he heard footsteps.

Someone was coming down. Whoever it was had something shiny in his or her right hand -- Steib thought it was either a gun or a knife. Steib says he yelled, "Police! Stop!" as the person rounded the upper stairwell corner and came into full view, never saying a word. Other officers heard Steib yell, "Show me your hands!" Then there were gunshots.

Intending a three-round burst, Steib instead fired four bullets -- understandable, given that the MP-5, the same machine gun shown in the infamous photograph of the Elian Gonzalez raid, fires at the rate of 900 rounds per minute. The .40-caliber bullets sprayed Green across her body. One hit her left shoulder, another tore into her left lung, a third ripped through her liver and the fourth struck her right elbow, going clean through. Steib walked outside and told a sergeant, "I'm off," meaning he was the one who had fired and was immediately relieved of duty. The sergeant told him to sit in the van. Inside the house, Green's 12-year-old son went from playing video games to stepping around his dying mother in the stairwell. "I saw my momma laying right there with her blood running down the step," he told detectives.

Green had been carrying a foot-long bolt -- her relatives, who accuse police of planting it on the stairwell, think it may have been part of a makeshift brace constructed of two-by-fours that was used to secure the front door. She was dead on arrival at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. Tragedy aside, the result was much the same as a year earlier: a half-ounce of pot found in someone's pocket, a .25-caliber pistol, a shotgun and a rifle. Once again, prosecutors filed no charges.

Green, the third unarmed African-American shot dead during county anti-drug operations in less than a year, lies in Laurel Hill Cemetery. Officer Steib, who fired from a distance of about 6 feet, is the only living eyewitness, according to police accounts. Two officers who were right behind him in the stairwell told detectives they were looking elsewhere when shots rang out. Steib was soon cleared by police investigators and returned to duty within two weeks, long before a grand jury concluded he'd done nothing criminal. Steib continues to work the point on county drug-search warrants. It's a prestigious and dangerous position, the place assigned to the sharpest cop on the squad.

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