An Austin, Texas husband called police early Sunday morning to request help from a mental health officer. His wife was armed and acting erratic, he reported. But the mental health call turned deadly after the responding officers arrived on the scene.
911 operators asked the husband to stay on the line while police traveled to the Austin apartment complex. When they arrived, the man’s wife emerged from the home, gun in hand, police said in a Sunday press conference. “Shoot me, shoot me, kill me,” the 26-year-old woman reportedly told officers. They complied, shooting her multiple times while she was standing, and again after she was on the ground. She was dead just over an hour after her husband’s call for mental health support.
“Anytime that we have a loss of life, it’s a very, very tragic event,” Assistant Police Chief Troy Gay told reportersduring the Sunday morning press conference. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of the deceased, as well as the officers and their families.”Police said the shooting had no witnesses, other than the two officers involved. The officers reportedly captured audio of the incident, but no video footage. Police did not return The Daily Beast’s request for comment on Sunday.
But the scene police described was one of chaos. A two-person crisis response team responded to the distressed husband’s mental health call around 3:45 a.m, on a block of two-story apartment buildings across from a middle school. When they arrived, the man’s wife allegedly stepped from the porch, pointing a gun at the officers.
“‘Shoot me, shoot me, kill me,’” Gay described the unnamed woman’s demands. When the woman allegedly refused requests to drop the gun, officers fired an unknown number of shots. The woman fell to the ground, still moving, and still in possession of the gun, Gay said. The officers fired another series of shots before the gun slipped from the woman’s hands.
The officers administered first aid and called an ambulance, but it was too late. The woman died within the hour. Neither officer was harmed, Gay said.
Austin Police are currently facing scrutiny for their use of force, particularly against people of color. While the victim of Sunday’s shooting was white, an October study by the Center for Policing Equity found that Austin Police used force against the city’s African American population more often than it did against white or Latino residents. The city saw widespread outcry in February, after police shot and killed an unarmed African American teenager who had been naked and acting erratically. The killing prompted activists to call on police to improve their responses to people exhibiting symptoms of mental illness.
Sunday’s shooting marked the eighth person killed by Austin Police this year. Among these shootings was that of a knife-wielding man after he allegedly tried to commit so-called “suicide by cop” in a grocery store parking lot in April.
Sunday’s shooting victim repeatedly told police to “shoot” or “kill” her, Gay said, prompting speculation that the woman may have attempted “suicide by cop”.
But mental health experts say the phrase is a loaded one, which might understate officers’ roles the shootings. While police are often the first to respond to mental illness calls, their training often prioritizes issuing commands and showing authority: two techniques that can further aggravate a distressed person.
“Traditional law enforcement tactics are rooted in logic, in reasoning – and in issuing commands for someone to comply so that we can make the situation safe right now by taking a person into custody,” Douglas County Police Capt. Attila Denes ++told Al Jazeera++ [http://america.aljazeera.com/watch/shows/america-tonight/articles/2014/4/23/how-traditional-policinghurtsaandsometimeskillsathementallyill.html.] “But barking orders at a person with serious mental illness doesn't work.” A controversial 2009 study by former LAPD psychologist Kris Mohandie suggested that in most “suicide by cop” incidents, the victim did not plan to die until after police became involved in the situation. “Four out of five did not plan theirsuicide for that day, but instead became acutely suicidal in response to circumstances or police intervention,” Mohandie wrote.
Both Austin Police officers involved in the Sunday morning shooting have been placed on administrative leave while the department investigates the incident.