After Meeting With Victim, Former Missouri Officer Is Cleared of Assault
The charge was dropped after the former police officer and the woman she shot outside a supermarket in Ladue, Mo., agreed to meet with a mediator over Zoom, prosecutors said.,
Two and a half years after a police officer shot a woman she suspected of shoplifting at a Missouri supermarket, prosecutors said this week that they had dismissed a felony assault charge against the former officer after the two women agreed to meet by videoconference to resolve the case.
During a Zoom call on Nov. 5, with a mediator present, Ashley Hall forgave the former officer, Julia Crews, for shooting her in the back outside a Schnucks supermarket in Ladue, Mo., just west of St. Louis, in April 2019.
“As soon as we saw each other, she started crying and asking me to forgive her,” Ms. Hall said in an interview. “I told her I forgave her the day she shot me. I felt so much relief.”
The meeting was organized by the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney, Wesley Bell, as part of a “restorative justice” mediation program. It took place a year after the city of Ladue agreed to a $2 million settlement with Ms. Hall that released Ms. Crews and Ladue’s police chief, Ken Andreski Jr., from liability, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. Mr. Bell announced on Monday that the assault charge against Ms. Crews had been dismissed.
Restorative justice, an alternative to prosecution, is based on the premise that victims of crimes and those charged with committing them can address and repair harm by voluntarily talking to each other. The process, which is most often applied in nonviolent cases, involves a conversation, facilitated by a mediator, that allows each party to discuss a crime and why it happened, and to reach an outcome that resolves the conflict.
The events that would bring Ms. Hall and Ms. Crews together this month unfolded on April 23, 2019, in the parking lot of the Ladue Crossing shopping center. Ms. Hall was one of two shoppers whom employees at the Schnucks store accused of pushing a cart of steaks and seafood past a self-checkout area, The Post-Dispatch reported.
Ms. Crews drew her weapon as Ms. Hall was running away and shot her in the back, the authorities said.
As Ms. Hall lay bleeding in the parking lot, Ms. Crews apologized to her, according to a federal lawsuit that Ms. Hall filed last year against Ms. Crews and the city of Ladue accusing them of unreasonable and excessive force. Ms. Crews later told detectives that she had meant to reach for her Taser, not her gun. A month after the shooting, she resigned from the Police Department, submitting a letter in which she called the episode an “innocent mistake.”
Ms. Hall, 36, was hospitalized for three weeks, initially in critical condition, with a lacerated stomach, a gunshot wound and multiple rib fractures, her lawyer, William King Holland, said.
Ms. Crews, 39, did not respond to an interview request.
“Officer Crews has maintained she did not intend to shoot Ashley Hall,” her lawyer, Travis Noble, said in a statement. “It was an accident. The restorative justice approach taken by the St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office was the best outcome for all involved.”
Mr. Bell, the St. Louis County prosecutor, said that the case “presented a unique set of facts” that made it an ideal opportunity for restorative justice mediation. He emphasized Ms. Crews’s immediate apology after she fired a bullet into Ms. Hall’s back, and Ms. Hall’s disclosure to him that she did not wish to see Ms. Crews go to jail.
Soon after the shooting, Mr. Bell contacted the restorative justice program in Washington, D.C., which the city’s attorney general, Karl A. Racine, established in 2017. Seema Gajwani, who leads the program, agreed to facilitate the moderation between Ms. Hall and Ms. Crews.
“This is an example accomplishing the ideal, which is healing and justice,” Mr. Bell said in an interview. “The trauma that individuals have to deal with during the legal process often does not address that healing, that type of accountability, and it’s not designed to.”
Ms. Gajwani said in an interview that the criminal justice system leaves little room for people to have the agency to “resolve things themselves and to have a chance to speak.” She said she has often been surprised by how frequently victims opt for restorative justice when it is available, instead of a trial.
Washington’s restorative justice program has conducted more than 150 mediations, according to Mr. Racine’s office, which said that an internal analysis of cases involving juvenile offenders indicated that the process reduces recidivism.
Restorative justice programs are proliferating across the country, and not just in major metropolitan areas, said Alissa Marque Heydari, deputy director of the Institute for Innovation in Prosecution at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
“It can give that person a level of closure that the traditional form of prosecution really can’t,” Ms. Heydari said, adding that there was a “growing trend” of applying restorative justice mediation to a wide range of cases beyond low-level crimes.
Restorative justice cases involving police officers or former officers are rare, according to Ms. Gajwani, who said the mediation in the Ladue shooting was the first one she had participated in with an officer.
One exception involved the dismissal of all charges last year against a former police officer in Asheville, N.C., who had been convicted of assaulting an unarmed Black man who was suspected of jaywalking.
The dismissal of the assault charge against Ms. Crews clears the way for her to return to the police force if she chooses, Mr. Noble, her attorney, said, adding that she had yet to indicate her future plans to him.
Ms. Hall said that she still struggles years after the shooting. She feels fear when she goes outside and finds herself catastrophizing, or assuming the worst, when she gets in her car.
But she said she was at peace with Ms. Crews. Their meeting was “very emotional,” Ms. Hall said, adding that it was “the best thing we could have done for both of us.”
“It felt like she was genuinely sorry,” she said. “I’m still here, and I’m thankful for that.”