After he died, there were no protests for Stephon Averyhart.
Shot by two St. Louis Metropolitan Police officers on February 12, 2014, the death of the 27-year-old mechanic made a slight blip on local news outlets, and those reports relied on a police press release to describe Averyhart's final moments -- how he fled a traffic stop, led police on a brief chase, crashed his blue 2006 Pontiac Grand Prix into a telephone pole, ran down an alley and was shot dead. The two officers who chased after Averyhart claimed he pointed a gun at them.
On Thursday, the one-year anniversary of his death, Averyhart's mother Stacey Hill and a handful of his friends gathered at a parking lot on the corner of West Florrisant Avenue and Union Boulevard, right across the street from the imposing sprawl of Calvary Cemetery. Hill chose the location intentionally, knowing that her son's friends still try to avoid area where Averyhart died, just a few blocks away.
"I went there the day they killed my son," says Hill, clutching a stack of flyers printed with Averyhart's face one side and information about the shooting on the back. "I don't have a problem going up there."
Thursday's gathering wasn't so much a protest as it was a memorial for a man whose death continues to baffle those who were closest to him. Family and friends remember him as easygoing, goofy, fond of girls and driving fast. His rap sheet contained only traffic tickets (some of which became warrants) and a misdemeanor charge for marijuana.
"As a little boy he always wanted to mess with cars. Everything was about cars," says Hill. She manages to laugh while retelling the story of how he'd repaired a junked black Grand Prix whose engine had burst into flames.
"Even the day he was killed he was coming from working on someone's car," she says.
That someone was JaJuan Harris's brother. Harris, who wears a sweatshirt bearing his dead friend's photo and the words "See you on the other side," says Averyhart was supposed to stick around to play some cards after fixing the car, but Averyhart insisted that he couldn't stay and drove off. That was around noon. Three hours later, Harris heard the news about the shooting.
"Every one of us is thinking about him every single day," says Harris, who works as a bail-bondsman. He says he helped Averyhart pay down nearly 30 traffic tickets and watched his friend struggle to build a career as a mechanic. Now, Harris keeps Averyhart's obituary taped to a bedroom mirror.
"No one knows the answer what to do. I just really wish we could bring him back," he says.
Answers are generally hard to come by in police-involved shootings, and in this case the police narrative has left his family and friends questioning the investigation. Hill, Harris and a couple others spent an hour or so dropping flyers in mailboxes and questioning neighbors near the alley where police chased Averyhart. They hope to find more witnesses, but so far they've had no luck.
The SLMPD hasn't closed its case on Averyhart either, and a police spokesperson confirmed that the investigation is ongoing. Although the two officers involved in the shooting were returned to duty, their names remain redacted in a 31-page supplemental incident report that police didn't give Hill until December.
However, the supplemental report sheds some light on the police investigation, and it's only bolstered Hill's belief that police didn't try very hard to verify the officers' accounts of the shooting.
Continue to read new details on the investigation.
According to the police incident report, around 11:50 a.m. on February 12, 2014, Averyhart fled a traffic stop in St. Louis County. He was soon being followed by a police helicopter which alerted SLMPD officers to his location. To stop Averyhart, officers laid down spike strips that blew his car's tires.
Still driving on the shredded tires, Averyhart headed down an nearby alley and dove out of the moving vehicle (which then crashed into a telephone pole) and took off running with a gun in his hand. Two officers pursued him on foot.
Averyhart rounded the corner of Harney Avenue and turned right down an alley. He tried to throw the pistol over a tall wooden fence, but he didn't throw it high enough. The pistol bounced off the top off the fence and landed back in the alley.
Here's what happened next, according to the official statement of John Furrer, the pilot of the police helicopter that tracked Averyhart's attempted escape.
The [pistol] fell, landing in the alley next to the wooden fence. The suspect initially ran past the [the pistol] then turned around and ran back to it. The suspect bent over and retrieved [the pistol] as detectives entered entered the alley from Harney. The suspect was facing the detectives when he retrieved [the pistol]. Due to the position of our orbit we cold not see the front of the suspect from the helicopter. We could see the detectives draw their firearms and then the suspect fall to the ground. Detectives advised over the radio that shots had been fired. The suspect laid in the alley motionless.
For Hill, the report only raises more questions. She insists her son would have never raised a gun at police, not when he was trying to build a business for himself, not when he'd finally managed to pay off almost all his traffic tickets.
She wants to know what really happened in that moment when her son stooped down to pick up the pistol just as the two officers entered the alley.
"To me, they came in that alley to shoot," Hill says. "They said they investigated, but they never questioned no one that was out there on the corner."
Indeed, the incident report describes how four detectives tried to find witnesses. Ultimately, only two people were interviewed. One was a man who was inside his home and didn't see the shooting, and the other was Averyhart's father, who saw his son leave that morning but could offer no other insight. Detectives checked at twelve other nearby addresses, four of which turned out to be vacant. That left the two officers who shot Averyhart as the only witnesses, so far, to what really went down in that alley.
Hill believes there are more witnesses out there, and that's why she went out Thursday to hand out flyers and talk with neighbors near the alley. In September, Daily RFT spoke with Paul Fields, a friend of Averyhart who lives in the neighborhood. He claimed to have seen officers running with their guns drawn before they turned the corner, but he was never questioned.
"Just because a police officer make a report doesn't make it true," says Hill. "I feel like police officers know they're not going to be investigated to where they get in trouble for what they do. They don't have any drawbacks."
That's why Hill says she'll continue to canvass nearby streets and houses for someone who may have seen what happened. And after a year of watching protesters in the St. Louis region rise up after the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, she says she feels emboldened to keep pushing for police accountability.
"I'm not angry," she says. "I'm not afraid of the police because not all the police are the same. What I'm angry about is the fact that I'm a working citizen, I pay taxes, I pay police to protect us along with everybody else. They shouldn't just be allowed to just kill our kids, and there's no answer for it."
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