Two families were looking for justice as they sat in a Boone County courtroom last week at the trial of former Lincoln County Sheriff’s Deputy Nicholas Forler.
The Missouri attorney general’s office charged Forler with two counts of first-degree involuntary manslaughter almost a year after he shot and killed 22-year-old Tyler Teasley and 23-year-old Michael Brown during a traffic stop on Oct. 23, 2005. The trial was moved to Boone County because of the publicity it received in Lincoln County.
The trial’s central question was whether Teasley, who had one count of driving under the influence on his record and was worried about getting another one, had deliberately let his truck roll back toward the deputy, or whether he simply failed to put it in gear while he tried to switch places with another driver. Teasley also had a resisting arrest conviction on his record.
Forler and others testified that Forler truly believed the driver, whom he could not see through the truck’s tinted rear window, was trying to run him over.
The deputy, now 27, had been with the sheriff’s department for about two years and seven months at the time of the shooting.
But the Teasley and Brown families received no satisfaction from last week’s trial: The Boone county jury of two women and 10 men deliberated about three hours before finding Forler not guilty on both counts.
“It’s like stuff right out of ‘Law and Order,’ except the bad guy didn’t go to jail,” said Tory Teasley, a younger brother of Tyler.
Both families said the deaths of the two young men were keenly felt in the community.
Brent Teasley, Tyler’s father, said more than 1,200 people attended his son’s wake on Oct. 26, 2005.
Every Monday since Teasley and Brown were killed, friends and family have held candlelight vigils outside the Lincoln County Jail. Some Mondays up to 200 people have attended, Brent Teasley said.
Several of Teasley’s and Brown’s family members and friends have decals memorializing the men on the back windshields of their cars.
Both families are just beginning to cope with the deaths.
Brent and Mary Teasley found out that their son had been shot when a chaplain at St. John’s Mercy Medical Center in St. Louis called more than three hours after the shooting. He asked why they were not at the hospital with their son, who was in grave condition.
“We didn’t know what he was talking about,” Brent Teasley said.
When they arrived, a Lincoln County sheriff’s deputy was standing at the door of their son’s hospital room and refused to allow them in, Brent Teasley said.
The Teasleys said they were finally allowed to see their dying son when a Missouri State highway patrolman arrived at the hospital two hours later and ordered the deputy to let them in.
When they walked into the room, they saw their son’s hands in bags. When they asked why, a hospital staff member said they were told that Tyler Teasley had shot someone and then turned the gun on himself.
“That’s how Tyler was known in the last few hours of his life,” his mother said. Tyler Teasley died at about 6:30 a.m. at the hospital.
Tracy McMullin, Michael Brown’s sister, said she learned about the death of her youngest brother from a cousin, who heard about it from one of the truck’s passengers. “It’s like a piece of me died, too,” she said.
McMullin had to tell her mother that her youngest son was dead. Her mother collapsed when she heard the news, McMullin recalled. Then she had to tell her four children, who are now 15, 12, 10 and 3. They were close with her brother, she said.
“My oldest took it really hard,” she said. “He has Michael’s personality.”
McMullin said it took her a year to get over the anger she felt toward Forler. But she began reading the Bible again and realized what she had to do.
“I had to find it in my heart to forgive him so I could go on and live my life,” McMullin said.
McMullin remembers her brother as a kind man who would help anyone in need.
“When I die, I want to see my brother again,” she said. “I talk to him every day when I wake up, just to let him know that I haven’t forgotten him.”
Brent Teasley remembers his oldest son as a happy man.
“He was a good, decent, hardworking and loving son,” Brent Teasley said. Tyler worked as a heavy equipment operator. “He wanted everybody to be happy.”
The Teasleys’ two younger sons, 20-year-old Tory and 14-year-old Trent, were in the Boone County courtroom throughout the trial.
After the jury returned a verdict of not guilty Thursday night, Brent and Mary Teasley, seated on a bench in the courtroom’s gallery, sank heavily against each other.
Outside of the courtroom, Mary Teasley sobbed as family members held her.
Tara Brown, another one of Michael Brown’s sisters, said her family would never be able to find justice.
“Two boys are in the ground,” she said. “And the cop (who shot them) walks free.”
Neither Forler nor his attorney, Joseph McCulloch, were available for comment after the verdict was read Thursday night.
Michael Brown’s parents and the four occupants of the truck sued Forler and Lincoln County in federal court for civil rights violations and excessive force. They settled the lawsuit on May 7. Passenger Julia Yerke’s father, Jim, said the terms of the settlement were confidential.
The Teasley family also filed a lawsuit in federal court against Forler and Lincoln County on the same grounds. That case is scheduled to go to trial in January 2008.
“The only thing we can do is hope that the civil trial will bring to light the problems that we have with the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department in this county,” Brent Teasley said.
McMullin said she believes what her family and the Teasleys have gone through is part of God’s plan.
“(Forler) has to live with what he did,” McMullin said. “I hope God will show him the way.”