By Justin Sweitzer, Special to the Capital-Star
About 30 people — some holding candles — in Philadelphia listened to a recording from Christian Hall's parents during a vigil on the one-year anniversary of his death. (STEVEN M. FALK / Philadelphia Inquirer)
HARRISBURG — On Dec. 30, 2020, Fe Hall dropped her son Christian off at his job at a local grocery store, thinking she would see him that afternoon.
Instead, Christian left work, walked to the ledge on a nearby overpass close to Stroudsburg in northeastern Pennsylvania, and called 911 about a possible “suicider.” About 90 minutes later, Pennsylvania State Police shot him with his hands in the air.
Fe and her husband, Gareth, have been trying to understand what happened ever since. They’ve started the process of suing the troopers who shot their son and have tried to preserve their memories of Christian as the sweet young man they adopted from China as a baby.
They held a vigil Thursday close to their home and the overpass where their 19-year-old son died one year earlier. Activists and family held similar events in more than a dozen other locations, including Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, and the Philippines, where Fe Hall was born.
The vigils showed the state that people remember the case, said Nicole Henriquez, Christian’s cousin and one of the organizers. The gatherings will include candlelight ceremonies, poetry, and music, she said.
“We’re pushing for justice,” Henriquez said. “Although Fe and Gareth will never have Christian back … they at least want this to never happen again to someone and they want the people who did this to have some kind of consequence — not, ‘Well it’s just justified.’”
Unredacted video obtained by Spotlight PA and NBC News shows that Christian’s hands stayed above his head as two troopers shot at him. Troopers tried to persuade him to get off the ledge and put down what they believed was a gun — actually a realistic pellet gun — for about 90 minutes before his death.
“If he doesn’t drop it, just take him,” a voice can be heard saying on the video shortly before troopers fired the final shots.
The shooting was investigated by State Police troopers from outside the local barracks. They turned their findings over to Monroe County District Attorney E. David Christine Jr., who ruled that troopers’ lives were in danger and therefore the shooting was justified
Fe Hall during a vigil for her late son, Christian, on the one-year anniversary of his death. The vigil was held at Pleasant Valley Assembly of God in Brodheadsville. (Matt Smith / For Spotlight PA)
Christian’s parents, as well as family attorneys Ben Crump and Devon M. Jacob, have criticized that process and called for a new investigation — one that doesn’t involve the State Police or the local DA.
In early December, the newly created Pennsylvania State Law Enforcement Citizen Advisory Commission recommended that such cases be independently reviewed. Whether those recommendations will be put in place remains to be seen. The State Police are drafting a response to the recommendations.
An unintroduced bill by State Sen. Art Haywood (D., Montgomery), meanwhile, would require that the state attorney general be given new powers to investigate all police killings.
It’s not clear where Gov. Tom Wolf stands on the commission recommendations or the bill.
When asked about the measures, Wolf spokesperson Elizabeth Rementer said in an email that the governor “appreciates the commission’s efforts to take the issues before them seriously.” The Democrat will review the recommendations once they include the State Police’s response and Haywood’s bill when it is formally introduced.
In a separate exchange, Wolf extended his condolences to Christian’s family when asked whether the shooting warranted further investigation.
“The governor believes this was a tragic occurrence that affects everyone involved,” Rementer wrote in an email. “To be clear, the governor believes that all police-involved shootings must be reviewed, and that is what has been undertaken in this case.”
Attendees participate in a vigil for Christian Hall at Pleasant Valley Assembly of God in Brodheadsville. Hall was killed one year ago by Pennsylvania State Police. (Matt Smith / For Spotlight PA)
When asked to respond to the governor’s statement, Gareth Hall said Wolf didn’t answer the question.
“What is going to happen? He is not coming out and saying that,” Hall said. “And you know what, to a degree, I get it because the laws here in Pennsylvania are archaic at best.”
Neighboring states have put in place strategies to remove police and prosecutors from investigating use-of-force incidents in recent years.
In New Jersey, the Attorney General’s Office established a public integrity and accountability office that oversees incidents involving deadly force or serious injury by selecting independent investigators or performing investigations itself. In Delaware, the Division of Civil Rights and Public Trust investigates use-of-force incidents, and Maryland has enacted sweeping legislation that tasks the state Attorney General’s Office with investigating all fatalities involving police.
Jacob, one of the Hall family lawyers, has filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania Office of State Inspector General about the way the case was handled. He wants the office to look at the statements made by the State Police about the shooting and compare them with what the unredacted video shows.
While the video does not appear to show Christian pointing the gun directly at troopers before he was shot, the accounts by State Police and the DA’s Office are inconsistent on this point in their statements.
Jacob received a letter from a deputy inspector general saying the office would evaluate the complaint.
He thinks the office should look at other cases where there’s body camera footage to see if State Police statements match the video. Jacob said that in most cases, the footage is not available to the public because it is not subject to the state’s open records law.
“Are the State Police accurately reporting its actions to the people?” he asked.
While the Hall family plans to keep fighting for change, Thursday commemorated Christian, Fe Hall said.
She believes he would be ecstatic to see people coming together to remember him and about the way people are using his name to push for justice for Asian Americans and people in mental health crises.
“He was a person, he mattered,” she said. “And he has a family, a grieving family. And as a family, we want to remember him.”
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Gareth Hall looks at an image of his late son, Christian, as he speaks during a vigil at Pleasant Valley Assembly of God in Brodheadsville. Christian Hall was killed one year ago by Pennsylvania State Police. (Matt Smith / For Spotlight PA)
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