Indiana police come under fire for killing black man in mental health crisis instead of calling crisis response team
Indiana police officers are facing backlash for fatally shooting a schizophrenic man after negotiating with him for 40 minutes.
South Bend Police SWAT officers reportedly opened fire on Dante Kittrell on July 29 when he was in the open with a pistol and threatening suicide. Police officers said they tried for 40 minutes to negotiate with the 52-year-old. Authorities said he raised the gun towards the armored SWAT truck, forcing officers to fire the fatal shots.
Community leaders and activists say police “executed” the man with a long history of mental health problems. The police union said attempts at de-escalation had been unsuccessful, allowing officers to take the right actions to resolve the incident.
“It doesn’t matter how much de-escalation you try or how much politics you have,” said Josh Morgan, vice president of the South Bend Fraternal Order of Police. “His actions have received the response that was given, the appropriate response I believe.”
Facebook video footage of the incident shows a shirtless Kittrell pacing the field next to Coquillard Elementary School. The woman behind the cell phone camera prays for protection. The discussion between the man and the police cannot be heard. The woman who took the picture, Brianna Johnson, said she didn’t know exactly what happened but was told police were trying to calm a man who was “out of medication”.
Officers with drawn guns surrounded the man next to patrol cars. Video captured the scene from afar and the shooting wasn’t clear, but it happened when the truck stopped in the field near the victim.
“I know he’s had some issues, but it’s never been this bad,” said another woman off-camera.
Kittrell reportedly suffered from schizophrenia. Henry Davis Jr., a city councilman, said he knew the man and that he had dealt with mental illness from a young age. Davis, activists and faith leaders said a clinician-led crisis response team should have been the initial response to the incident.
Some witnesses said officials did not allow church leaders, the man’s mother or a friend to de-escalate the situation.
Rev. JB Williams of Abundant Faith Family Ministries in South Bend reportedly witnessed the incident, which he described as “military-style surgery in response to a mental health crisis.” Williams said he was called to the scene by a community member, but was told it was against police protocol to allow him to approach the man in the crisis.
“I said, ‘But the protocol you’re following doesn’t apply. Negotiators negotiate for a person who is normal. But that person was sick — you can’t negotiate with a person who’s schizophrenic,'” Williams told reporters. “I said, ‘You’re dealing with a completely different culture. You are dealing with African Americans. When mothers speak, black boys listen, but they didn’t have the system designed for that.”
The Oaklawn Psychiatric Center in South Bend has reportedly set up a pilot team led by mental health professionals to help police respond to calls related to mental illness. Reports show they started taking calls in the spring. St. Joseph County leaders also committed millions of dollars to mental health and homelessness relief in December.
The officer’s response is under review by the St. Joseph County and Mishawaka Police Department.
“I know you’re here to shoot me. I know you’re here to take my life,” Kittrell said to ten police officers who surrounded him, according to Williams.
South Bend Mayor James Mueller said the community should wait until the investigation is complete before responding to the incident. Community leaders have already drawn up a list of calls for change and held a vigil to condemn law enforcement’s actions.
“Our policy is that lethal force is the last resort,” Mueller told the Indiana Tribune, referring to the city’s policing policy. “We need all the facts. We need the investigation to see exactly what happened and to see if we need to adjust anything.”
But black leaders said the city has been slow to implement change. Faith in Indiana and Black Lives Matter South Bend are calling for the public release of body camera footage and 911 call recordings related to the shooting. They also want an independent prosecutor to investigate the incident and for 10 percent of the city’s police budget to be used for the crisis team.
“They were available Friday to respond to the incident,” said Rebekah Go, a member of Faith’s Indiana-based Jail Diversion Task Force. “I don’t know why they weren’t called [know]. They were the right people to respond.”
Recognizing the need for more mental health care, particularly in minority communities, the mayor added, “We also need to find the will to prevent firearms from falling into the wrong hands.”
Mueller said it was unusual to dispatch a crisis response team separate from law enforcement when there was an imminent threat, adding that it was already difficult to find officers who could respond to situations that could end in death.
“I know there are a lot of calls for it, but in a volatile, potentially dangerous situation, I don’t know if those teams are the ones who would step in,” Mueller said.
Lynn Coleman, a police officer and resident, said the shooting was traumatic for Kittrell’s family but also for the officers involved.
“These cops didn’t show up for work that day and they said, ‘We’re going to kill someone,'” Coleman said after a candlelight vigil on Aug. 1, adding that he wears it every day he puts his uniform on , be aware it could be his last. “They have to deal with that too. This is tragic for everyone.
The man’s mother, Marcia Kittrell, said she needed divine intervention to recover from her son’s death.
“They took him away from me. They took him from me!” Marcia Kittrell yelled during the vigil. “I will see him again. They took it from me, but they cannot take it from me again.”
https://atlantablackstar.com/2022/08/04/lethal-force-is-a-last-resort-indiana-police-fatally-shot-schizophrenic-man-threatening-suicide-after-negotiating-with-him-for-40-minutes/ Indiana police come under fire for killing black man in mental health crisis instead of calling crisis response team