Lead Into Gold

A cop shoots a colleague and makes him a wealthy man

Scott Barthelmass was a regular Johnny-on-the-spot at his second job, providing security at St. Louis' most popular shopping mall. One of a couple dozen off-duty city and county officers who moonlighted at the St. Louis Galleria during the busy holiday shopping season, Barthelmass had a reputation for cracking down on undesirables.

In 1999, during his second seasonal stint at the mall, the 28-year-old Overland cop stopped a rash of car break-ins on the Galleria's parking lot -- a feat that won him a special commendation from the mall's managers. And after Barthelmass received a report that two boys were shoplifting, he corraled one suspect in the mall's parking garage by rushing him with his Glock drawn.

Barthelmass had seemed like an eager and ambitious cop ever since he graduated from the St. Louis County and Municipal Police Academy in 1995 and started working for the Chesterfield Police Department. In 1997, he left to join the Missouri Highway Patrol, but he was drummed out after taking an "arrogant" attitude with an officer who'd pulled him over for speeding in St. Francois County. But at the Galleria, with his Overland badge and gun and no-nonsense attitude, Barthelmass seemed exactly the kind of diligent law-enforcement officer who'd make throngs of anxious holiday shoppers feel safe and secure.

Eric Poindexter flees the Galleria with Overland Officer Scott Barthelmass in pursuit.
Eric Poindexter flees the Galleria with Overland Officer Scott Barthelmass in pursuit.
Poindexter races through the Galleria in an effort to avoid security.
Poindexter races through the Galleria in an effort to avoid security.

But safe and secure isn't how Norman Campbell, a veteran St. Louis County cop, felt on Dec. 23, 1999 -- the day Barthelmass accidentally fired his Glock and put a .40-caliber bullet through Campbell's left hand. The events that led up to the accidental shooting were captured on surveillance video and described in depositions in a lawsuit that was recently settled in Campbell's favor. The suit raised questions about how good a job the area's biggest mall does in training its security staff and whether the mall was targeting certain customers. Those questions went largely unanswered because the mall in October opted to settle the lawsuit rather than go to trial. Campbell collected $550,000. For his part, Barthelmass -- the gung-ho officer who'd been praised by the mall -- ended up losing his part-time gig at the Galleria and picked up a reprimand at his full-time job.

The day Barthelmass' luck ran out began when he and Richmond Heights Police Officer Harry Hall received a report that a man standing in front of the Lane Bryant store was hassling security guards. Because the Galleria serves as a substation for the Richmond Heights Police Department, Hall was working as an on-duty officer. As they headed to Lane Bryant, Hall told Barthelmass that "if there was a problem with the subject," he would be taken in for peace disturbance -- a useful catch-all Richmond Heights ordinance that's invoked when nothing else seems to fit.

When they arrived, four guards were gathered around 26-year-old Eric Poindexter, who was clad in baggy gray sweatpants, a designer jacket with a T-shirt hanging out of the waistband and a beige cap. A Lane Bryant clerk had called security, concerned that Poindexter appeared to be harassing a female customer, Marilyn Adams. One security guard had already concluded that Poindexter wasn't dangerous but detained him to make sure his name wasn't on the Galleria's "banned" list -- an inventory of names and photographs of people excommunicated from the mall for a variety of sins ranging from conduct-code violations to "anything illegal," according to Jenny Koch, a Galleria spokeswoman. Despite the fact that Poindexter's name wasn't on the list, he wasn't allowed to leave.

Although he hadn't done anything illegal and Marilyn Adams said he hadn't been harassing her, Hall told Poindexter to put his hands on his head so that he could cuff him. A security guard reached for Poindexter and Hall tried to cuff Poindexter's hands behind his back, but Poindexter slipped out of his coat and began running south through the mall. The security detail took off after him.

When Barthelmass hit the sidewalk that circles the Galleria, he unholstered his gun and chased Poindexter across the crowded parking lot. Poindexter ran across Brentwood Boulevard and darted between the old Dairy Queen and Beauty Outlet, then into a field. At about the same time, Campbell, the county cop, was driving north on Brentwood in a police cruiser. A security guard flagged him down and said, "A black guy just ran from us." Campbell raced across the field in his car and stopped Poindexter. When Barthelmass arrived, Campbell and another guard had a squirming Poindexter under control, but Barthelmass' gun was still out and he had his finger on the trigger. Campbell, who knew Barthelmass from the police academy, wasn't in uniform, so he backed up and relinquished control to him. Campbell later told a Richmond Heights detective that Barthelmass pushed the gun into the back of Poindexter's neck and yelled, "Don't ever run from the fuckin' police."

Poindexter also told the detective that he felt "the push of the gun on his right back side." Other officers denied or couldn't recall Barthelmass' holding the gun to Poindexter. But they all agreed that when he went to holster his gun, Barthelmass accidentally pulled the trigger.

"Goddamn it, Scott!" was the first thing one security guard remembered Campbell saying.

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