ST. LOUIS • Fact: Cary Ball was a convicted felon carrying a loaded gun about 9:45 p.m. April 24.
Fact: Ball, 25, fled from St. Louis police, crashed a car at Cole and Ninth streets near the Edward Jones Dome and ran.
Fact: Ball died after two St. Louis police officers shot him 21 times at Eighth and Carr streets.
Unknown: Why did the observations of multiple witnesses conflict with each other and the officers’ account?
Investigators interviewed about a dozen people, with about half saying they saw at least part of the shooting. Some say Ball had a gun in his hand. Some say he was throwing it aside and surrendering. Some say the officers were about six feet from Ball when they opened fire. Some say they were closer.
But no civilian witness reported seeing Ball point the gun at the officers. There is no video of what happened.
The department’s investigation concluded Nov. 15 that the officers were justified in killing Ball after he pointed a .40 caliber Glock at them.
Ball’s relatives insist that, as an educated man with a budding career in social work, he never would have aimed a gun at police. The family has filed a wrongful-death suit seeking unspecified damages from the officers, department and others.
Now, in a rare move, Police Chief Sam Dotson has requested that the FBI review his department’s handling of the case. He also met with Ball’s mother, Toni Taylor, and gave her a copy of the police report.
“Some paths are very clear to me, and with this one, I want to make certain that we are right,” Dotson said in a recent interview.
Finishing his first year as chief, Dotson said he had never made this kind of request before and believed it had happened only a few times in the department’s history.
“There is nothing sinister about this, but I think as chief, I have a responsibility to make sure we are as objective and as thorough as possible, and that we answer any unanswered questions,” he said. “This is not an allegation officers did anything wrong at this point.”
Ball was the oldest of his mother’s four children. Taylor said he was a senior and honor student at Sumner High School when they moved to Florida to tend to her mother. At 17, Ball left behind friends and a school he loved.
“I call Florida a black hole,” Taylor said. “I said to him one day, ‘You never smile anymore,’ and he said, ‘Nothing here makes me happy.’ ”
Taylor said she worked three jobs to make end meets. Her son was increasingly distant and disobedient, and he made friends she did not like. Ball was sentenced to three years in prison for robbing several businesses and told her he did it because, “I was tired of watching you look so tired.”
In prison, Ball earned a GED and an early release, his family said. He and his family returned to St. Louis in 2008. He fathered a daughter. That September, Ball was at a family party when someone in a car opened fire. Four people, including Ball, were wounded. He spent three weeks in a hospital while doctors repaired his left arm.
He told his brother, Carlos Ball, “I never want to be shot again without being able to shoot back.”
His mother did not approve of his carrying a gun. But he mostly stayed out of trouble and joined Convicts Once, Now Saved, an organization that helps past offenders find work.
He was featured as the lead man on a moving crew profiled in a Post-Dispatch story in 2009, saying, “I believe CONS Moving Company is one of the main reasons I’m still out. It puts money in my pocket and it’s a real positive environment.”
About seven months later, Ball ran a stop sign, and an officer found his gun. His probation was revoked. A month after his release in May 2012, he enrolled at St. Louis Community College at Forest Park to study social work.
Weeks before he died, Ball was shaking hands with legislators in Jefferson City, advocating for medical care of ex-offenders and the elderly.
Carlos Ball believes his brother’s progress in life was why he fled police the night he died: “He had way more to lose.”
Cary Ball was carrying a gun that had been reported stolen from a vehicle parked on South Broadway at Clark Avenue on Sept. 27, 2012.
On April 24, Ball finished a shift in the laundry at Mercy Hospital St. Louis, in Creve Coeur, and gave a co-worker, Ernest Robinson, a ride back to the city. The men had just met.
The police report fills in details from there:
Robinson saw Ball grow nervous after a patrol car pulled behind them. Officers found that the car was not wanted, but tried to stop it at about 18th Street and Delmar Boulevard after it turned without signalling.
Ball told his passenger he wasn’t stopping, although Robinson said he should. The car crashed into several parked cars near Ninth and Cole. The airbags deployed. Ball climbed over his passenger, escaped through a window and ran.
Robinson told police he never saw Ball with a gun.
Residents went to their doors and windows after hearing the crash. Several told the police they saw Ball running with a limp, and a gun in his hand. Others said he ran at full speed, with no gun.
The officers, Jason Chambers and Timothy Boyce, said they saw Ball clutch his waistband as he ran.
One officer said he saw Ball pull the weapon and point it at them. The other said he saw the gun in Ball’s right hand when he turned toward them. One officer fired 12 shots. The other fired 16. (Dotson said officers were trained to keep firing until the threat has passed.)
When homicide detectives re-interviewed witnesses about five days after the shooting, some said they saw the officers standing over Ball as they fired.
The Ball family’s attorney, former St. Louis mayor Freeman Bosley Jr., said autopsy photos show several entry wounds to the underside of Ball’s arms, suggesting his arms were up when he was shot.
In the months after her son’s death, Taylor knocked on doors to find witnesses. She said everyone told her that her son had dropped his gun and was raising his arms when the officers opened fire.
Taylor said she believed the police department was taking her son’s case seriously.
She resents that Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce once issued a statement calling Ball’s death a “tragedy” but never filed charges. A spokeswoman for Joyce said the investigation was ongoing and charges still could be filed.
By standard practice, now that the homicide unit has determined the shooting was legally justified, internal affairs investigators are checking whether it meets department policies.
Chambers, 33, is an eight-year veteran of the force assigned to SWAT. He has been disciplined for two internal affairs issues: a four-day suspension in December 2012 for failure to conduct a proper investigation and a written reprimand for a driving incident in March 2007.
Boyce, 30, is a five-year veteran currently assigned to the Fourth District. He has been disciplined four times in his career, all for traffic-related violations.
Neither officer could be reached for comment. Their attorney, Talmage Newton, said that the shooting was justified and that Dotson’s call to the FBI “reeks of political gamesmanship.”
He added, “To me, it sounds like this chief is looking for cover from an outside agency rather than trusting his own experts on the subject matter.”
Taylor wants the officers fired and jailed.
Bosley noted that witnesses told investigators the officers ran after Ball with their weapons drawn and had chased him in the car at high speed, both violations of policies.
But Dotson said it wasn’t that simple. He said the officers had a right to run with their guns if they believed their suspect was armed, and he doesn’t consider the short distance officers chased Ball to be a pursuit.
“You have to put yourself in the officers’ position,” Dotson said. “Nobody disputes that he turns around at some point and they saw a gun in his hand. It’s great for us to sit here seven or eight months later and armchair quarterback it.”
Taylor clings to a certificate her son earned before his death as proof that he had turned his life around. It declares Ball an “Emerging Scholar” at Forest Park Community College, because of his 3.86 grade-point average.
The day he was supposed to receive the certificate, he was buried.