Police Officer Won't Be Charged in Fatal Galleria Mall Shooting

click to enlarge The parking garage where Terry Tillman was shot by a Richmond Heights police officer. - GOOGLE STREET VIEW
The parking garage where Terry Tillman was shot by a Richmond Heights police officer.

Editor's note: This story has been updated significantly with information from the video of the shooting.

St. Louis County prosecutors won't charge a police officer who killed a man who they say sparked an armed chase last year through the Galleria Mall.

But video of the shooting captured on a police dashcam appears to clash with the initial statements on the shooting offered by the St. Louis County police. The footage does not show Terry Tillman pointing a pistol at either of the two officers who cornered him in a parking garage near the mall on August 31, 2019.

Instead, the dashcam presented an unobstructed view of the near-simultaneous confrontation between Tillman and an unidentified Richmond Heights officer who, in pursuit of Tillman, was ascending a staircase to the second floor of a parking garage. At the same time, Tillman was sprinting away from a second officer — and toward the same flight of stairs.

As shown on video, the officer was halfway up when Tillman rounded the corner at the top of the stairs. The two men were in sight of each other a fraction of a second before the officer opened fire, striking Tillman multiple times in the chest. The department has not named the officer or released any information about his service record.

In a Tuesday press release from the St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney, Tillman was described as running “full-speed toward the officer holding a gun,” but this framing fails to convey what’s fully clear in the video — the fact that Tillman had no idea he was running toward an officer at the time.

The incident had started that day at 3 p.m., when Tillman was walking through the Galleria with a .40 caliber Glock handgun in his pants. Surveillance footage from various mall sources showed the gun's extended magazine sticking out of his waistband holster as he entered a store and talked with an employee.

Tillman was never seen brandishing the pistol, though at one point in the video a store employee talking to Tillman appeared to comment on the protruding magazine. The interaction seemed to prompt Tillman to tuck it further into his pants.

But he had already been spotted by several shoppers, as well two officers working security at the mall. Surveillance and bystander-shot footage showed the officers confront Tillman at a store, but he sprinted away after a brief conversation. In the process, Tillman knocked over a clothing rack and dropped his pistol, which he stopped to recover before continuing his escape.

Pistol still in hand, Tillman managed to shake the two officers, who soon lost sight of him as he dashed across Clayton Road. But as a manhunt began and officers from multiple departments swarmed the Galleria and surrounding commercial district, two Richmond Heights officers zeroed-in on a parking garage near Simmons Bank just across the street from Galleria.

The two cops split up, approaching staircases on the east and west side of the structure.

Neither officer knew that Tillman had run up the west stairs just seconds before they’d pulled up in their patrol SUVs. With one officer now cutting off the other staircase, Tillman ran back to the west side of the building, apparently heading for the stairs he’d just taken.

He had no idea he was about to confront a Richmond Heights officer coming up the same way.

In a private screening for reporters on Tuesday, prosecutors showed the moment of the shooting in slow motion. Tillman is never seen raising the pistol in his right hand. Mid-stride, Tillman bursts around the corner, and in nearly the same moment the officer fires several shots while moving backward. The officer stumbles on the stairs, falling the rest of the way and landing on his back on the ground — none of which, as he would later tell investigators, he remembered in the aftermath.

Similarly, in a formal interview three days after the shooting, the officer also said he had no memory of firing an additional shot while lying on his back. After that shot, however, the dashcam video recorded him shouting at Tillman, “Drop the gun, motherfucker!”

Tillman’s response is audible on the video. “I dropped it, I dropped it,” he said. These were Tillman’s last discernable words caught on the video. As officers swarmed the scene, the video showed one removing Tillman’s pistol — along with a 28-round extended magazine — and others giving him CPR. Tillman would later be pronounced dead at the scene.

The police report noted that the trigger on Tillman's handgun was depressed, though he'd left the weapon unchambered. The handgun had been purchased by a friend, police found, as Tillman's criminal history (he had served five years in prison for a 2013 robbery) meant he would likely not pass a background check.

In a press release, St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell said he couldn't file any criminal charges against the officer, given what he'd seen in the video. He said he'd met with Tillman's relatives on Tuesday and told them of his decision. He also showed them the series of videos from the investigation into the shooting.

“There is no way to heal the loss of a son, father, brother or friend, and we regret the loss of this young man’s life," Bell said in the news release. "But the facts and law in this tragic case do not warrant criminal charges.”

Although Bell did not release the video to the public or name the officer who took part in the tragic case, his office did release a 127-page redacted investigative file, which featured a transcript of the formal interview between the officer and St. Louis County detectives on September 3, 2019, four days after the shooting.

At one point, the officer described the moment he faced Tillman at the top of the parking garage stairs. He recounted that Tillman appeared to be “looking back” toward the east staircase and the second officer shouting commands.

“I had my gun pointed up the stairs. And the subject came flying, or running,” the officer said. “He had a pistol about right here in his hand pointing that way.”

Here the transcript notes that the officer demonstrated the position of Tillman's pistol by holding his hand “near his right hip.”

“He didn't see me,” the officer continued, “and that’s when I fired.”

— RFT editor Doyle Murphy contributed to this report.

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