“Kill the ill” is not a law enforcement mandate.
We cannot ignore the statistics, however, that half of the people killed by law enforcement in the United States are mentally ill.
We have such dystopic law enforcement results because we fail to train for crisis intervention, lack oversight, and, of course, we’ve cut back mental services nationwide.
I have known law enforcement agents, detectives and cops my whole life as a federal and state prosecutor and as a criminal defense counsel, and, given the resources, guidance and proper directives, they will do the right thing.
But these killings are distressing.
In Houston, Texas, for example, an officer shot and killed a pen-wielding wheelchair bound double amputee in the head when the police were called to a group home for the mentally ill.
In Saginaw, Michigan, six police officers gunned down a homeless, schizophrenic man in a vacant parking lot when he refused to drop a small folding knife. Sound familiar.
When I first came to Loudoun County in 1982, its law enforcement standard for our Deputies and Police was as “peace officers.”
We now see “rules of engagement” usually found in the military and condemned when practiced in a civilian community.
Recently, a mentally ill woman, 38 year old Mhai Scott, a Filipino, short of stature, weighing about 100 pounds, was killed at the Costco in Sterling with a 40 caliber HK P30 hand gun, shot 3 to 4 times, by a Deputy Sheriff.
Amazingly, we have no public reports, none, where the entry (and any exit) wounds were found on Ms. Scott. We don’t know whether she was shot from the side (as appears likely), straight on, or in the back (the way she was first tasered unsuccessfully). There was no blood spatter evidence reported that would corroborate any account of how she was killed.
Only days ago, the Commonwealth Attorney and the Sheriff who supervises the Deputies who were the subject of investigation issued a report justifying the killing of Ms. Scott (short any published autopsy report or pictures of the decedent).
The Sheriff investigated his own staff, using his staff to investigate, in conjunction with the Commonwealth Attorney who was his running mate in the last election. At the very least, this had the unfortunate appearance of a disqualifying bias.
But let us look at that report they issued – http://www.loudoun.gov/documents/18/10495/7.30.2013%20-%20Costco%20Report_201308011014506622.pdf .
Ms. Scott was assigned to pass out sample pizza slices to customers at the Sterling Costco. Costco employees reported to a Store Supervisor that Ms. Scott was “having some kind of psychotic episode” and “not making sense.” Soon afterwards, Ms. Scott was holding an 8 inch knife and a pair of scissors. She was mumbling but not understandable. Customers were kept out of the immediate area. Ms. Scott reportedly said, “Keep back.” She was encouraged to put down the knife. But she did not.
In the 911 call, Costco told the Sheriff’s dispatcher, that they had “an employee who has a knife in her hand, she’s not acting rational,” in fact she’s “talking crazy… and refusing to put the scissors or knife down.”
Five armed Deputy officers responded. The store cleared the customers away. The officers established no perimeter to secure customer safety themselves.
The officers chose a questionable configuration to confront Ms. Scott, as there were two Deputies behind Ms. Scott and three facing her, all with lethal weapons, an almost certain cross fire disaster should they fire at Ms. Scott.
Told that the store personnel had asked her to drop her scissors and knife, and she had not, they asked her, and unsurprisingly, she still didn’t.
They could think of nothing else to do but taser her.
Of the two officers behind her, one had a taser and the other a hand gun drawn. When the officer clumsily tasered her on the third try, she looked over her shoulder and ran away from him.
One of the three officers in front of her with a taser panicked, fumbled his handcuffs and his taser and turned and ran from her.
A second officer with a taser facing her did nothing.
A third officer, somewhat to her right, his left, facing her, fired in the direction of the officer who tasered her, hitting him in the leg. 3 or 4 of his other shots found their mark in Ms. Scott (we know not where).
The Commonwealth said her killing was “justified” because Ms. Scott was running toward the Deputy who turned and ran, and because some customers might be at risk, even though the store had cleared them away.
Now we need need an independent re-investigation to find out what happened here – perhaps by a Civilian Review Board.
We must also establish new procedures and practices to protect the mentally ill.