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.

Campbell was only a few feet away from Barthelmass when he was hit in the left hand by the bullet. Campbell later told a detective that Barthelmass yelled at Poindexter: "Look what you made me do, you made me shoot this officer."

Things had gotten serious, and now asses needed to be covered.

In the police report, Hall wrote that Adams was "immediately accosted" by Poindexter when she arrived at the mall, that he "followed her without her permission" and that she asked a Lane Bryant employee "to call Galleria security because she was afraid of suspect Poindexter." Hall said, "I asked Victim Adams if she would prosecute Poindexter on the charge of Stalking to which she agreed." After Adams agreed to prosecute, Hall wrote, he decided to arrest Poindexter. But Adams, told by the Riverfront Times of the officer's claims, says forcefully, "They are lying. That's a lie. I did not say that."

The report justified Barthelmass' unholstered gun by stating that Poindexter "kept his hands in front of him as though he were trying to retrieve something from the waistband of his pants or pockets" -- even though no gun was ever found and no one testified that he actually saw a gun in Poindexter's hand. The officers scoured the field where Poindexter was arrested, but they didn't find anything. They interviewed Adonica Drake, Poindexter's girlfriend and a clerk at the Galleria's Avon kiosk. Poindexter had taken her to work that morning, so the officers asked to search Drake's car for "contraband." Again, they came up empty-handed.

Why did Poindexter run? He didn't return our requests for comment, but the police later told employees from Lane Bryant and Beauty Outlet that Poindexter had outstanding warrants, something that wasn't discovered until after Campbell was shot and Poindexter carted off to jail.

Richmond Heights asked the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney's office to issue a case against Poindexter for misdemeanor stalking and resisting arrest on Dec. 30, 1999. The prosecutor agreed and asked a judge to enter an order prohibiting Poindexter from contacting Adams. Adams tells the Riverfront Times she didn't know that stalking charges were being brought against him and said she was never contacted to be a witness and never requested the order prohibiting contact. However, the indictment lists Adams as a witness. Poindexter entered a guilty plea to stalking and resisting arrest and received a suspended imposition of sentence.

The Galleria fired Barthelmass -- the shooting was bad for the mall's carefully crafted image. Overland reprimanded Barthelmass and forced him to attend training in "use of force," as well as "shoot, not shoot" situations. Barthelmass, who is still working as an Overland cop, refused to comment for this story.

Calls to Galleria security chief Larry Beerman were returned by Koch, the spokeswoman. She says all of the Galleria's information on the incident "was put into that police report." Asked whether she had any comment about Adams' claims that Poindexter wasn't stalking her, Koch says that all of the information would be in the police report. She says she doesn't know how many times an officer might draw his gun on a weekly basis at the Galleria but stresses that the "public-safety officers [security guards] do not carry weapons." As for the number of police officers working secondary jobs at the mall, Koch declines to provide the numbers on the grounds that "specific information about our public-safety policies and procedures would compromise what we are trying to do here in keeping our shoppers safe."

After several surgeries, Campbell was able to return to work. The St. Louis County Board of Police Commissioners gave him a commendation three weeks after the shooting. Campbell sued Hycel Partners, the owner of the Galleria, claiming the company was negligent in failing to properly train and supervise its security personnel, including Barthelmass.

Campbell declined requests for an interview, but his attorney, James Dowd, says the case is troubling. Whenever Dowd goes to the mall, he says, he thinks about the day his client was shot: "I think about that police-chase scene, and maybe I feel a little less secure knowing that, at least in that incident, they really didn't know what the hell they were doing. And that is kind of troubling -- guys with guns who don't know what they are doing and don't know why they are doing it."

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