Police Shootings of People with Mental Illness - This is a Growing Problem

John McManamy Health Guide
  • This post has very disturbing content. It involves a recent police shooting and killing of a homeless man with mental illness.  


    On March 14, Albuquerque police were involved in a stand-off with James Boyd, 38, who had been camping in the foothills outside of town. Mr Boyd, who was contending with schizophrenia, had a history of violence.


    The stand-off lasted about three hours, ending at about 7:30 in the evening. A police video taken from an officer’s helmet cam picks up on the last three minutes. Mr Boyd, is standing on a rise above two officers about ten yards away. One officer is pointing what looks like a drawn taser gun at Boyd. The other is unarmed, handling a police dog. In the foreground, we see the barrel of another weapon, pointed straight at Boyd. 

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    Mr Boyd is saying he has a right to kill the officers. He slings a bag over his shoulder, and picks up other belongings. Both hands are clearly full. He appears to be leaving.


    We hear a bang. We see a puff of smoke. It appears to be some kind of blank round intended to shock and awe. Mr Boyd drops his belongings and holds out his hands. Another officer, with a drawn weapon, enters the frame. The officers command Boyd to get on the ground. The dog charges, close, very close, restrained by the handler’s leash. Boyd appears to produce a knife, maybe two.


    Shots ring out. Boyd falls. The barrel of another weapon protrudes into the bottom of the frame. Someone shouts, “Beanbag.” Four beanbag rounds are fired into Boyd’s prostrate form. The handler releases the dog from his leash. The dog swarms Boyd’s body.


    Astoundingly, Albuquerque’s police chief used the video to justify the killing. You see, the dog handler was unarmed (if you don’t count the attacking dog) and Boyd was. From the chief’s own lips:


    It was when the canine officer was down directing the canine dog that the suspect pulled out the two knives and directed a threat to the canine officer who had no weapons drawn.


    The chief added: “There was directed threat to an officer.”


    At the time of the shooting, the US Justice Department was completing its own 16-month investigation on Albuquerque police violence. The Department released its report on Thursday. According to the report, on at least 37 occasions in the last four years, Alburquerque police officers have killed 23 people and wounded 14 others. Most of them suffered from mental illness and were nonthreatening. 


    In an article on the Boyd killing, the New York Times reports that around the country, the problem has gotten worse in recent years, as state and local governments have cut back on mental health services.


    The police are placed in the unenviable position of being first-responders to those in a mental health crisis, an occurrence that most are not trained for. If anything, standard police procedure only makes the situation worse.


    Police departments across the country typically have a smattering of officers trained in crisis intervention, modeled on the pioneering work of the Memphis Police. Indeed, one such crisis officer was actually at the scene in the Boyd killing, along with a State Police liaison. But another one of the officers was a man who had been fired by the State Police and then initially hired by the Albuquerque Police as a civilian employee. Later, they gave him a gun and a badge.


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    I have nothing more to say. 

Published On: April 12, 2014