Spotlight PA is an independent, nonpartisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive/The Patriot-News, TribLIVE/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and WITF Public Media. Sign up for our free newsletters.
HARRISBURG — The parents of a Chinese American teenager fatally shot by Pennsylvania State Police in 2020 filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday accusing state troopers and the local district attorney of trying to “thwart public oversight” by making misleading statements and refusing to release full video of the incident.
Video recorded by the State Police and published in November by Spotlight PA and NBC News shows that the teenager, Christian Hall, was holding a pellet gun with his hands in the air above his head when troopers fired at him.
The lawsuit says the troopers used excessive force, killing Hall as he tried to surrender and after they said they would not shoot him. Devon Jacob and Ben Crump, the Hall family’s attorneys, also allege that the Monroe County district attorney and his deputy misled the public by showing an edited version of the video.
The suit, filed in federal court in Harrisburg, lists as defendants State Police Superintendent Robert Evanchick and four troopers – two unnamed “John Doe’s” and Charles S. Phelps and Ian D. MacMillan. State Police officials, including Evanchick, did not respond to a request for comment. Phelps and MacMillan could not immediately be reached for comment.
Other defendants include Monroe County and District Attorney E. David Christine Jr. and Assistant District Attorney Michael Mancuso. They issued a statement defending their handling of the case and saying their actions were “in keeping with the DA’s responsibility to keep the public informed and reassured that this tragic incident was not due to the unjustified use of deadly force by law enforcement.”
“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 wrote in the statement.
“What happened to Christian and his parents is not excusable,” said Jacob and Crump in a press release. The two also represented the family of George Floyd, whose killing in May 2020 sparked a national outcry. “Just like George Floyd’s unlawful homicide, the involved Troopers who committed this unlawful homicide took time to deliberate before they decided to end Christian Hall’s life. We obtained justice for George Floyd and we will obtain justice for Christian Hall.”
On the afternoon of Dec. 30, 2020, Hall called 911 about a “possible suicider” on an Interstate 80 overpass in the Poconos. Hall, 19, had been upset about a breakup with his former girlfriend, Christian’s father, Gareth Hall, said. Christian Hall posted a picture on Snapchat of the overpass with the text “who would miss me,” according to a report released by the DA’s office.
When State Police troopers arrived a short time later, they found Hall on the overpass’ concrete ledge looking down. In his hand was a pellet gun, which troopers believed to be a real gun. State Police video shows troopers talking to Hall, trying to get him to put down the gun and walk toward them.
After about 90 minutes, Hall moved toward the troopers with the pellet gun in his hand, arms at his sides. Huddled behind their vehicles about 70 feet away, troopers again told him to drop the gun.
The video obtained by Spotlight PA and NBC News from Jacob and Crump shows Hall raising his hands after a trooper fired the initial shots, which missed him. Hall first raised his hands to his sides, then above his head, holding the gun in one hand, the video shows.
“If he doesn’t drop it, just take him,” a voice can be heard saying on the video.
Hall’s hands stayed above his head as a corporal and another trooper fired several more shots. Hall was struck, clutched his stomach, and fell to the ground.
In the lawsuit, the Hall family claims that the initial State Police press release on the shooting, which stated that Hall had pointed the gun at troopers before shots were fired, was intentionally misleading. Troopers “did so with the intent to thwart public oversight” and to pressure Hall’s parents, Fe and Gareth, not to file a lawsuit, it states.
In Pennsylvania, local district attorneys investigate police shootings unless they recuse themselves and send the case to the state attorney general. In this case, Christine and Mancuso investigated the killing along with the State Police.
Gareth and Fe Hall publicly called for Christine to send the case to the attorney general and later criticized him for not doing so. The lawsuit alleges Christine and Mancuso retaliated against the Hall family by not answering questions or explaining their decisions.
Crump and Jacob, the family’s lawyers, also allege that the district attorney’s office used portions of the video in a presentation shown at a March 2021 news conference in a way that misled the public.
At that news conference, Mancuso announced that no troopers would be charged in the killing and that Hall was an imminent threat from the moment he put his hand on the gun.
“Frankly, it’s a testament to the troopers that they didn’t shoot sooner,” Mancuso said.
He mimicked Hall pulling the gun out of his waistband and raising it in the air, and said Hall “played with it in this way and at some point kind of moved the muzzle over in the direction of the troopers, then raised it upward.”
The lawsuit asks for compensation for violations of the family’s legal rights, Hall’s death, pain and suffering, other damages, and attorney’s fees but does not list a specific amount.
Fe Hall said that she is glad the lawsuit has been filed and that she still struggles with the loss of her son.
“I do not have the strength to read about my son that way, about how his life was taken that way,” she said of the lawsuit. “I just refuse to look at any more videos. … I just refuse to see the last moment.”
WHILE YOU’RE HERE… If you learned something from this story, pay it forward and become a member of Spotlight PA so someone else can in the future at spotlightpa.org/donate. Spotlight PA is funded by foundations and readers like you who are committed to accountability journalism that gets results.