ST. LOUIS (AP) -- This fall's fatal shootings of two teenagers by police in St. Louis County have raised questions about whether a permanent civilian review board should be created to investigate the deaths.
County Executive Charlie Dooley said he did not favor the idea but would support having a civilian committee look into specific police shootings, and then only when there was reason to think that official investigations were unfair or less than thorough.
Police have said that officers were endangered when they shot and killed Byron Harmon, 15, on Nov. 16 and Kyle Dismukes, 17, early on Thanksgiving Day.
James Buford, president of the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis, called Dooley's proposal for case-specific civilian review committees "very unfortunate."
Buford has been working to create a civilian board in the city of St. Louis to review police shootings. Mayor Francis Slay and Police Chief Joe Mokwa have endorsed some sort of civilian oversight, but a bill to create a board has been bogged down since May of last year in a dispute over how members would be selected.
Buford favors electing members to a city board and said he would favor a similar board to review shootings by county officers and incidents involving other police forces in the county. He said a board appointed by Dooley and the County Council would lack credibility.
Dusmukes was fatally shot about 1:40 a.m. Thursday by a Pine Lawn police officer whom he allegedly was dragging alongside a car. Police said Dismukes grabbed the officer's arm through the driver's side window after being stopped about 1:40 a.m. and then drove away.
Harmon's fatal shooting is being investigated by the county police Internal Affairs division, which is standard for all police shootings. It also will be investigated by the county prosecutor's office the Board of Police Commissioners, which consists of five citizens appointed by the county executive overseeing police operations.
Police said they shot Harmon when he drove a stolen car toward officers in an apparent attempt to flee. Officers fired, county police Chief Ronald Battelle said, because their lives were in danger.
Battelle went to the shooting scene and called the officers' actions "justified.
He said he was comfortable allowing anyone to investigate the actions of his department, but from what he knows, civilian review boards do not work.
"More often than not, these boards say police officers acted correctly," Battelle said. "Then, when advocates of these civilian review boards don't see officers being disciplined, they lose confidence in the process, and it falls apart."
Kyle Dismukes, a young rapper from Overland, recently cut a CD aptly titled "Streets Tell It All."
Shortly after performing songs from the CD at the Cougars nightclub in Normandy, Dismukes was shot to death early Thursday by a Pine Lawn police officer after a traffic stop in the 2700 block of Kienlen Avenue.
The officer said he had stopped Dismukes' car for a traffic violation about 1:45 a.m. but that the youth grabbed his arm as he approached the driver's window and sped away, with the officer clinging to the door.
The officer said he could not break free and fired into the car with his free hand after he was dragged for some distance, including when Dismukes, 17, made a U-turn in the street.
The officer's name was not disclosed.
The shooting was being investigated Thursday by St. Louis County police, who said they found a handgun in Dismukes' car.
Thursday's incident was the second fatal shooting in two weeks of a St. Louis County teenager who apparently was trying to flee from police. On Nov. 16, Byron Harmon, 15, was fatally shot when two St. Louis County officers fired into a car at a trailer park on St. Charles Rock Road.
The officers said they fired because their safety was jeopardized, but a friend of Byron's who was in the car said Byron panicked and was simply trying to get away. The car Byron was driving turned out to be stolen.
Dismukes' mother, Cynthia Montgomery, 48, of Overland, said she wants a thorough investigation of the shooting.
"I want to know why they shot him. I find their account unbelievable," she said. "I'm not satisfied."
Dismukes was the youngest of Montgomery's six children, she said.
"He was a very loving person who was kind and intellectual," she said. "My son was very smart and a very good person."
Dismukes had been a rap performer since he was a little boy, his mother said.
He attended an alternative high school operated by the Ombudsman program and affiliated with Normandy High School.
One of Dismukes' sisters, Tamika Dismukes, 27, said she, too, wanted a better explanation from the police.
"We're getting the runaround from the police," she said. "They've been very vague."
County police isssued a news release describing the shooting but refused to comment further on Thursday, citing the Thanksgiving holiday.
Several of Dismukes' friends gathered in the street Thursday in the 6200 block of Bailey Place in Hillsdale where Dismukes often stayed. Bailey is just a few blocks from the shooting scene.
One close friend of the slain teen locked herself in an SUV with her head buried in her hands as she listened to the blaring music of Dismukes' CD.
Friends of Dismukes said he had been driving a 2001 Mercedes that belonged to a friend when he was shot, and some suggested that the fact that the car was a luxury vehicle may have been the reason the officer stopped it.
One man who would not give his name said he had been driving behind the police car and witnessed the incident. He said the officer fired almost immediately when Dismukes drove away, with the officer clinging to the door.
"The officer grabbed the door and Kyle hit the gas pedal, and the car came to a stop a short distance away," said the man, indicating a distance of perhaps 30 yards. The man said he didn't hear any gunfire but added that "the cop must have shot him right away" because of where the car stopped.
Just 18 hours after a Pine Lawn police officer fatally shot 17-year-old Kyle Dismukes on Thursday, tragedy struck again: A friend of the young rap artist was wounded in a drive-by shooting two houses down from Dismukes' home.
Labaron Bass, 24, a rap artist who recorded music with Dismukes, was shot in the back by someone in a pickup about 8 p.m. Thursday, police said. He had been walking with a few friends on the 6200 block of Bailey Place in Hillsdale. He was recovering Friday at a hospital.
Hillsdale police Detective Sgt. Robert Kelly, who is investigating the shooting of Bass, said the shootings appeared to be unrelated. Enraged friends and relatives of Dismukes and Bass insisted on a connection.
Bass's girlfriend, Nicole Taylor, said she thinks Bass' shooting was in retaliation because a group of men had attacked a police officer after Dismukes' shooting. The attack could not be verified Friday.
"I just think whoever it was knew exactly what he was doing," said Bass' sister Tammy Stewart, 22, who lives a block away on the 6200 block of Greer in Pine Lawn. About Kelly, she said: "He seems nice. He said he was going to find out who did this."
Stewart pointed to two seemingly intractable problems in her neighborhood, which straddles the tiny, mostly low-income cities of Hillsdale and Pine Lawn: Too many people in the area are involved in crime. And, to her, police seem to believe that everyone who lives there is involved in crime. It adds up to mistrust between people and police, she said.
Police in Pine Lawn and St. Louis County refused Friday to discuss Dismukes' shooting or identify the shooter. Each department said the other was responsible for releasing the name. St. Louis County police historically review homicides and police shootings in several smaller municipalities.
The officer said he had stopped Kyle Dismukes' car for a traffic violation about 1:45 a.m. Thursday but that Dismukes, 17, grabbed his arm as he approached the driver's window and sped away, with the officer clinging to the door. The officer said he could not break free and fired into the car with his free hand after he was dragged for some distance, including when Dismukes made a U-turn. Police said they found a handgun in Dismukes' car.
Dismukes' sister Bridget Torrence, 31, said Friday that she often worried about her brother.
"But I never would have guessed police killed him," she said. "I always figured it was going to be the kids he was with."