LADUE • A Ladue police officer who shot an alleged shoplifter thought she had drawn her Taser and not her gun, her lawyer told the Post-Dispatch on Monday.
“She is devastated,” said attorney Travis Noble. “Complete accident.”
Noble said the officer, 37, a 13-year veteran of the Ladue Police Department, met with police Sunday at Noble’s office for about two hours to discuss the shooting. Police have not named the officer.
The alleged shoplifter, a 33-year-old woman, is expected to survive her wounds but remains hospitalized. Police have not released her name and she has not been charged.
The shooting happened last week outside a Schnucks grocery at 8867 Ladue Road, near Interstate 170. Schnuck Markets said two women each pushed a grocery cart of items they did not pay for past a self-checkout area, including hundreds of dollars of meat and fish, said sources familiar with the incident.
When Schnucks workers stopped them at the door, one of the women abandoned her cart and ran out of the store. The second woman, holding balloons she had paid for, grabbed some unpaid items from her cart, and, after a brief struggle with one of the workers, ran out of the store, too.
Ladue police were called about 3 p.m.
St. Louis County police, who are investigating the shooting, said the arriving officer found one of the two alleged shoplifters in the parking lot. She told the officer she had been injured during an altercation in the store.
Noble said his client arrived at Schnucks to find a woman standing on an island in the parking lot, complaining of injuries. The officer then called for an ambulance and tried to ask her what happened.
“The woman seemed to be not right,” Noble said.
The officer tried to handcuff the woman, but she broke free and started running, Noble said. The officer chased after her, yelling for her to stop. “The officer drew what she believed to be her Taser and screamed ‘Taser! Taser! Taser!’ and discharged what ended up being her weapon,” Noble said.
She fired her pistol once, and when the woman went down, she “realized her mistake and immediately rendered first aid,” Noble said.
The officer pulled her 9 mm Glock from a holster on her right hip, Noble said. The Taser was holstered just inside her left hip.
“You’re talking about a police officer who for 13 years has never drawn her Taser ever,” Noble said. “She’s, like, literally running, and you know how tunnel vision kicks in.”
Ladue Police Chief Ken Andreski Jr. said he could not remember the last time his suburban St. Louis department had an officer-involved shooting in the town of about 8,600. The department has 26 commissioned officers.
Ladue officers began carrying Tasers sometime during the mid-2000s, said department spokeswoman Susan Ryan. The department rotated the devices among officers until last year, she said, when each officer was assigned their own Taser. Officers are trained annually, most recently in May last year.
A Taser — commonly known as a stun gun — is a weapon that fires barbs attached by wires to batteries that cause an electrical current to temporarily paralyze someone. The Taser can also be used directly on a person without firing the barbs.
Since 2001, there have been 15 known incidents where U.S. law enforcement officers said they mistook their service weapon for their stun gun and fired on a suspect, including one that occurred in a Pennsylvania police department holding cell in March, according to the Bucks County Courier Times. In three of the 15 cases nationwide, the suspects did not survive.
In all but four cases, including the March incident, the officer was not charged with a crime, according to the newspaper.
Departments across the country have tried to train their officers to draw their Taser from their weak side, in hopes that training creates new muscle memory and reduces “Taser confusion,” as it is called.
But officers still make mistakes, said David Klinger, a criminologist and use-of-force expert with the University of Missouri-St. Louis. It’s a little like driving a car, he said.
“Sometimes people mean to slam on their brakes, but they push the accelerator instead. It happens,” Klinger said. “Under stress, you are just going back to what you do most of the time, and most of the time, your foot is on the gas, not on the brake pedal.”
Officers most often draw their sidearm, not their Taser, he said.
Perhaps the most well-known case of Taser confusion involved a fatal shooting on New Year’s Day in 2009 on Bay Area Rapid Transit, or BART, in Oakland, Calif.
A jury convicted the officer of involuntary manslaughter, and a judge sentenced him to at least two years behind bars. With credit for time served, the officer was eligible for release in about seven months. In 2013, a movie, “Fruitvale Station,” was released about the shooting.
St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell said during his campaign that he would seek special prosecutors to review police shooting cases. His office has declined to comment on how this case will be handled.
St. Louis County police are still searching for a second woman to question about the incident.
Anyone with information is asked to call police at 314-615-8634. Callers who want to remain anonymous and potentially receive a cash reward can call CrimeStoppers at 1-866-371-8477.