Probe clears St. Ann cop in shooting of man who needed medics. His family calls foul. (2024)

ST. ANN — A veteran policeman is back on patrol in St. Ann after investigators, a citizen police board and the county prosecutor cleared him of wrongdoing in a February shooting.

But relatives of the man he shot are crying foul.

Davion Swinson of St. Louis was shot in the arm at his friend’s apartment Feb. 17 after the friend summoned paramedics to help take Swinson to a hospital because of stomach pains.

Unbeknownst to Swinson, his family said, police came with medics on the sick call, which is policy in St. Ann. Swinson pointed a gun at an officer while he was sick, scared and confused, and didn’t realize the police were there, Swinson’s relatives said.

Swinson’s mother, grandmother and aunt are frustrated that the officer never yelled for Swinson to drop his gun before shooting him.

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Probe clears St. Ann cop in shooting of man who needed medics. His family calls foul. (1)

His relatives also complain that the officers came to the apartment on high alert because of outdated information from dispatchers — that the apartment was “flagged” by police, preparing officers that a man connected to the apartment might be aggressive. But that flag was for the apartment’s previous occupant.

St. Ann police Chief Aaron Jimenez said his officer did everything right. Swinson had burst down a hallway and pointed a handgun with a laser at the officer, and the officer had less than a second to react, the chief said. The officer fired a single shot and then de-escalated the situation by shouting commands to surrender, he said.

Swinson was injured and recovered. He is now jailed on charges that he tried to assault an officer.

The interaction that day was captured on the officer’s body camera video. Investigators released segments of it to the public last week, but the Post-Dispatch obtained the full, 37-minute version through a Sunshine Law request. It appears to support police’s account of the shooting.

Probe clears St. Ann cop in shooting of man who needed medics. His family calls foul. (2)

‘Really proud of him’

The shooting happened at an apartment in the 4100 block of Parc Chalet Drive in St. Ann. Swinson’s family said he has a history of stomach pains, and his friend called for a medic about 8 a.m. that day because they were particularly bad.

The incident escalated quickly in a narrow hallway of the apartment. Swinson was in the bathroom complaining of pain when authorities arrived, and he wouldn’t leave when medics tried to coax him out. When he did come out, he scrambled to get a gun from another room, then lurched toward a police officer.

“(Swinson) went from sick, moaning and groaning, to saying ‘I’m going to get mine,’ meaning his firearm,” Jimenez said Tuesday. “It’s not like that officer had a minute or two.”

Jimenez said Swinson later admitted he was upset and got his gun because someone banged on the bathroom door.

The officer shot Swinson in the arm. No one else was injured.

Swinson was charged with attempted assault on a law enforcement officer. He is jailed in the St. Louis County Jail in lieu of $500,000 cash bail. His family said that bond is disturbingly high for someone without a criminal record and who didn’t return fire on the officer. Swinson’s next court date is in August.

St. Ann police asked the North County Police Cooperative to handle the probe of the incident. The investigation covered two parts: Swinson’s actions, which led to the charges; and whether the officer did the right thing. Last week, the North County Police Cooperative released a 9-minute video summarizing what happened. That agency’s findings were then given to Prosecutor Wesley Bell’s office.

Christopher King, a spokesman for the prosecutor, said Tuesday in an email that Bell’s office has reviewed the report and “determined that the use of force by the St. Ann Police officer was justified.”

Jimenez said a 12-person police board in St. Ann, made up of civilians, also cleared the officer.

Jimenez identified the officer as Eric Sontheimer, who has been with St. Ann since 2018 and patrolled Charlack before that. Jimenez praised Sontheimer as a good, honest cop. Sontheimer is back at work. He followed protocol that day, Jimenez said, and has been cleared by a psychologist who determines if a cop is mentally fit to return to duty.

Jimenez said the officer’s response was “textbook” in that he fired a single shot to stop the threat, and then made sure Swinson’s friend was safely taken out of the apartment.

“To have the restraint to fire one time instead of unloading the magazine is incredible,” Jimenez said. “I’m really proud of him.”

The outdated flag on the address for someone with a violent past, meanwhile, was “totally irrelevant” to the shooting, Jimenez said. Officers should be alert any time they enter a home.

What the video shows

Maj. Ron Martin of the North County Police Cooperative last week narrated a summary of the case for the public and released snippets of the officer’s body cam footage. Martin said he wanted key parts of the video to be made public “in order to be transparent.” Martin declined to discuss the case further.

Swinson’s family said they were frustrated that only snippets were released to the public instead of the full video.

Probe clears St. Ann cop in shooting of man who needed medics. His family calls foul. (3)

His mother, Crystle Collins, who was not present the day her son was shot, said her son had received the gun as a gift three days earlier. Swinson is a musician. He grew up with respect for law enforcement and has no criminal record, she said.

“He didn’t know the police were there,” Collins said. “People who are supposed to be there to help him, but all he hears is this loud chaos from who he thought was the paramedics yelling and cursing at his best friend.”

Swinson’s great aunt, Loretta Collins of Creve Coeur, also defended Swinson. “Davion was not committing a crime,” she said. “He was sick and just needed a ride to the hospital. The police initiated a threat, the way they handled a 911 sick call.”

Jimenez said it’s been policy for more than 30 years in St. Ann for police to show up with medics on every sick call. Jimenez said they do it even if there’s no flag on the address indicating potential trouble. It allows officers to meet more residents, he said, and sometimes police show up before medics arrive and can render aid.

The Post-Dispatch obtained the unedited version of the body camera footage from Martin through a records request. It contains several lulls, including when medics and police wait about six minutes at the front door to the apartment, at the request of Swinson’s friend, before entering the apartment.

They casually talk about how there is a “flag” on that address for a man who is aggressive. A medic punches his fist into his palm seemingly in jest.

The recording is muted in several parts, and it appears the officer cut his mic during lulls. Jimenez said it’s OK for officers to mute their mics unless a citizen is nearby.

Before he mutes his mic, however, Sontheimer is heard at the video’s 90-second mark knocking on the apartment door and announcing, “Police department.”

Swinson’s friend — the woman who called 911 — answers the door, says something about getting out of the shower and asks them to wait a few minutes before coming in.

The officers are dressed in black, as are the medics, but both uniforms are emblazoned with their respective professions. But Swinson’s family says he wouldn’t have known that — he was in the bathroom and wouldn’t have seen the uniforms or heard police announce themselves.

Swinson remains in a bathroom for several minutes, and moaning can be heard on the tape. One of the first responders said to the others, “There’s something off about this.”

The police continue to talk casually, about the mess in the apartment and how the home has too many remotes for one TV. An empty crib is in the front room, near where at least two officers and a medic stand. There is no sign of a child. One wonders aloud where the child might be.

Down the hallway, a medic tries repeatedly to convince Swinson to open the bathroom door. Police wonder if he was the man with a history of aggression, but when a medic asks for Swinson’s name they discover he’s not.

About 20 minutes after medics and police arrive, Swinson’s friend who called 911 pleads several times with officers to leave. The woman felt they were being disrespectful and making fun, “treating them with aggression,” Crystle Collins said.

Swinson’s friend could not be reached for this story.

The medics and two officers head to the door and say they’re leaving. Sontheimer, whose body cam recorded the confrontation, is the last to go. He walks slowly backward with his gun in hand. His view of the hallway is slightly obscured.

Swinson then bolts from the bathroom and into a bedroom and yells something that sounds like, “I’m going to get mine.”

Sontheimer assumed Swinson was going to get a gun, Jimenez said.

Sontheimer then yells at the woman in the back hallway: “You new to this neighborhood, aren’t you? We don’t (expletive) around here.” Sontheimer then warns the woman that if Swinson “pops out” with anything in his hand, “he’s going to be going in the ambulance.”

She asked the officer, again, to leave. “I’m asking you to leave my premises now.”

Sontheimer yells, “Alright. Do not call us back.”

The woman says, “I won’t. Respectfully, you can leave.”

Swinson suddenly bursts from the back room with a gun in his hand. He pushes the woman out of his way as he moves toward the officer.

Sontheimer fires once. Swinson doesn’t shoot.

The woman wails and begs officers to stop before being taken away from the apartment.

About a minute later, Swinson crawls around the corner. He’s bleeding from the arm and lies down, giving himself up to police.

Probe clears St. Ann cop in shooting of man who needed medics. His family calls foul. (4)

Crime

St. Ann police officer shoots man in arm during emergency call for service

  • Jesse Bogan

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Probe clears St. Ann cop in shooting of man who needed medics. His family calls foul. (2024)
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