(AP) — The parents of a 19-year-old man who was killed by state troopers on an overpass in the Pocono Mountains filed a wrongful-death suit Wednesday, saying video that Pennsylvania State Police initially tried to keep secret shows he was pointing a pellet gun in the air and not at the troopers when they fired the fatal shots.
The federal lawsuit says troopers had no reason to open fire on Christian Hall and claims three high-ranking officials — state police Commissioner Robert Evanchick, Monroe County District Attorney David Christine and Christine’s deputy, Michael Mancuso — took steps to conceal the details of the shooting in an attempt to protect the troopers.
State police shot and killed Hall “during a mental health emergency while he was standing with his hands up in the universal stance of surrender,” civil rights lawyers Ben Crump and Devon Jacob said in a news release.
Mancuso, who has said the shooting was justified, accused Crump and Jacob of pushing a “false narrative.”
“The attempts by the attorneys to mislead the public and now the filing of a frivolous suit against the DA’s Office is yet another example that they are motivated not by the pursuit of justice but the allure of monetary gain,” Mancuso said via email.
State police declined comment on pending litigation.
Troopers went to the Route 33 overpass over Interstate 80 in Monroe County on Dec. 30, 2020, in response to a report of a suicidal man and found Hall standing on the ledge, authorities have said.
Troopers spent about 90 minutes trying to persuade Hall to give up and drop the weapon, saying “We are here to help you” and offering him food, drink and a blanket. They also parked tractor-trailers beneath the overpass to reduce Hall’s fall if he jumped, authorities have said.
But Hall approached the troopers while brandishing a pellet gun that resembled a semi-automatic pistol and they opened fire, authorities said.
Police video released by the Monroe County district attorney’s office last March showed that Hall had rotated the barrel of the gun from straight out to the side and was pointing it in the air seconds before the shooting. At the time, Mancuso commended troopers for showing restraint, and characterized the fatal shooting as “a classic ‘suicide by cop’ scenario.”
But the DA’s office, in its public PowerPoint presentation of the shooting investigation, blurred out the moment of the shooting itself.
In the unredacted version of the video obtained by lawyers for Hall’s family and subsequently released to the media, Hall was stationary, with both hands raised and the barrel of the pellet gun pointing straight up, when he was shot three times and fell to the ground. Lawyers for Hall’s parents said three seconds elapsed between the time he stopped moving toward the troopers and waving the gun, and the time that troopers fired.
“If he doesn’t drop it, just take him,” a supervisor said just before the fatal shots, according to the video.
State police initially said in a news release on the shooting that Hall began walking toward the troopers, “at which time Hall pointed the firearm in the troopers’ direction.”
That was false, the lawsuit said.
“The unredacted video is undisputed evidence establishing that PSP’s official written statement was false and the DA’s PowerPoint was intended to mislead the public; both intending to coverup the unlawfulness of the homicide,” the lawsuit said.
Evanchick, the state police commissioner, initially refused to produce the video, turning it over only when the family’s attorneys threatened to pursue legal sanctions, the suit said.
“Basically, the state police have been operating under a cloak of secrecy, and the expectation was the family and the public would never see the unredacted video,” Jacob said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Lawyers for the family contend the fact that Hall was 70 feet (21 meters) away from troopers when he was shot, and had his hands up while holding the gun, meant he did not present an immediate threat that would have justified the use of deadly force.
The suit seeks unspecified monetary damages.