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New video shows teen killed by police had hands up

Plus, top PSERS executives step down as legal saga swirls.

A weekly newsletter by Spotlight PA

November 18, 2021 | spotlightpa.org

Hands up, news judgement, mask ruling, pay raise, PSERS pressure, Oath Keepers, election eyes, bail business, ballot dispute, and 'forever chemicals.'
Dear reader,

We recently kicked off a historic effort to sustain Spotlight PA's vital journalism in 2022, and I want you to be a part of it. We've been challenged to raise $70,000 by December 31st, and if we do it, we'll unlock $70,000 in matching gifts. This is simply unprecedented.

We built Spotlight PA on the premise that people will support tough, nonpartisan journalism that holds our elected officials and those in power to account. If you take a minute and make a tax-deductible contribution now, you'll help us keep the pressure on next year.

And with the race for governor about to heat up, we need Spotlight PA's professional journalists working around the clock to cut through the nonsense and deliver the truth. Put another way: We can't continue to do this work without your support. So please consider making a gift now.

With gratitude,
Christopher Baxter, Editor in Chief
Nineteen-year-old Christian Hall had his hands raised for 14 seconds before Pennsylvania State Police fatally shot him on a highway overpass near Stroudsburg almost one year ago, newly released videos show. 

Previous footage from the scene showed Hall, who was experiencing a mental health crisis, had his arms raised above his head and a realistic-looking pellet gun in one hand. But authorities blurred the final seconds of his life, obscuring key context concerning the troopers' decision to shoot.

The unredacted footage — obtained by Spotlight PA and NBC News from Hall’s parents, whose lawyer received it through a subpoena — shows Hall's hands were still in the air, the pellet gun in one, when troopers opened fire and he crumpled to the ground.

The videos raise new questions about the official "suicide by cop" narrative as well as reports that Hall pointed the pellet gun at troopers before he was fatally shot. (Keep scrolling for more on Spotlight PA's decision to publish the footage.) 

While Hall's parents are preparing to sue the troopers involved, there have been no criminal charges filed in the case. Monroe County's district attorney said Hall's killing was justified because the teen's actions put the lives of troopers at the scene at risk. 

In Pennsylvania, Gary Harki reports it's up to district attorneys who work closely with police to decide whether officers who kill should be charged — and there is little recourse should anyone disagree with their decision.

And finally, two top executives with the Pennsylvania Public School Employees' Retirement System (PSERS) are leaving their jobs as a law enforcement probe continues to swirl around the $73 billion, taxpayer-backed pension fund.

Spotlight PA and The Inquirer report that the departures of executive director Glen Grell and investment chief James Grossman Jr., the highest-paid employee in state government, were announced with no explanation.

Colin Deppen, Spotlight PA
"Everybody recognizes with local police and a local DA, they are working together every day." 

—David Rudovsky, a use-of-force expert, on inherent conflicts of interest when local prosecutors investigate killings by local law enforcement
At SpotlightPA.org, we don't have a paywall. We don't have ads, either, or charge other newsrooms who want to use our journalism. Readers like you help keep our work free for all. If you think it's important for EVERYONE to have access to the facts, please give now and help us reach our goal »
Fourteen imprisoned people and seven officers have tested positive for COVID-19 at Mercer County Jail, closing it off to visitors; the Pennsylvania House Health Committee has endorsed a constitutional amendment that would guarantee the right to refuse vaccines; and some COVID-19 reinfections are now being included in Pennsylvania's case count. Keep up with our coronavirus tracker, or find where to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
» Top state senator Jake Corman joins GOP race for Pennsylvania governor in first bid for statewide office

Editor's Note: Why Spotlight PA published unredacted footage of a fatal shooting by State Police

New, unredacted videos reveal the final seconds of 19-year-old Christian Hall's life, who was experiencing a mental health crisis when he was killed by the State Police in Stroudsburg about a year ago.

Previously released video of the shooting showed the teen with both arms above his head and a realistic-looking pellet gun in one hand. But the final seconds before he was killed were blurred by authorities.

Spotlight PA obtained the full videos and made several considerations when weighing whether to publish portions showing Hall's final moments.

First, we considered the newsworthiness of the video and its graphic nature.

In this case, we determined the most newsworthy portion of the video was the seconds leading up to the shooting and the shooting itself because both were previously redacted in footage released by the Monroe County District Attorney's Office. While disturbing, that portion of the video shows an important point: Hall remained with his hands in the air as State Police troopers shot and killed him. State Police twice claimed that Hall pointed his gun at troopers, something not clearly seen on the full, unredacted video.

Second, we considered the impact of the video's release on Hall’s family, in particular his parents, Fe and Gareth Hall.

Both sought the video through a subpoena and made the decision to release it in order to spur calls for a new investigation — something experts consulted by Spotlight PA agree is warranted. The edited video, their attorneys argued in letters to state and federal investigators, leads "the viewer to believe that in the redacted portion of the video, Christian pointed the weapon at troopers and advanced on troopers; thereby justifying the use of deadly force."

Third, we considered the impact of the video on the general public, particularly those who might be dealing with depression or contemplating suicide.

We added resources in the caption of the video, and have included those resources in the text of any story accompanying the video.

Finally, in reporting this story, Spotlight PA sought a partner organization, NBC News, with extensive experience handling disturbing video footage in an ethical way. The video was reviewed through its standards and legal department.

Christopher Baxter, Editor in Chief, Spotlight PA

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text HOME to 741741, or visit 
SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.

END DATE: Pennsylvania's school mask rule is now set to expire on Dec. 4 after a Commonwealth Court judge moved to lift a stay on a prior decision overturning the mandate, TribLIVE reports. The Wolf administration can request a new stay from a higher court or issue a new mandate.

PAY BUMPS: Pennsylvania state lawmakers, judges, and top executive branch officials are due for a big inflation-driven pay hike in 2022, the AP reports. It's the biggest such pay increase in three decades. Pennsylvania lawmakers are already some of the highest paid in the nation

PUBLIC VIEW: Gov. Tom Wolf has joined those calling for the findings of an internal investigation into Pennsylvania's embattled public school employee pension fund to be made public. But a lawyer for the fund said transparency might not be "the right answer," The Inquirer reports. 

MILITIA MEN: WITF spoke to some of the dozens of Pennsylvania police officers and state constables who joined the far-right Oath Keepers militia, covering their reasons for leaving the group or staying on. One defector said leadership "started going off the rails."

POLL WATCHERS: A wave of vacancies for local-level election posts prompted Trump loyalists statewide to wage write-in campaigns for the seats. The Atlantic reports that many won, and while the implications aren't certain, voting rights advocates are worried

» CITY PAPER: New bill would 'virtually destroy' community bail funds

» MORNING CALL: House GOP threatens Lehigh County over ballot count

» STATEIMPACT: Stricter state 'forever chemical' rule clears key hurdle

» FOX29: Philly councilmember holds onto post after corruption verdict 

» YDR: York County renews deal with controversial prison contractor 
Send your answers to riddler@spotlightpa.org. Love the riddler? Chip in and become a member of Spotlight PA so we can keep the good times rolling.

COMEBACK KID (Case No. 119)Peter throws a ball as hard as he can. It comes back to him, even though nothing and nobody touches it. How?

Feeling smart? Challenge a friend.

Last week's answer: An electric train doesn't make smoke. (Find last week's clue here.)

Congrats to Jeff W., who will receive Spotlight PA swag. Others who answered correctly: Michael H., Michele M., Frank H., Ed N., Philip C., Annette I., Jon N., Hagan H., Michelle T., Roseanne D., Kenneth J., Beth T., Jeff W., Dom A., Robert K., Kevin H., Sharon B., George and Melissa G., Donna D., Karen A., Edward F., Joan C., Fred O., Joseph M., Eileen D., Dennis P., Karen S., Norman S., Judy A., Daniel D., Dennis F., Joe S., Christina Z., Johnny C., Bruce B., Anthony E., George S., William D., Thomas D., Joel S., Rebecca D., Barbara M., Ken S., Michael S., Marvin S., and Sarah K.
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