When it happens — and relatives say it's rare for Franklin Williams to have a schizophrenic episode — he first starts to drink an inordinate amount of water. He takes baths and smokes cigarettes, anything to calm himself and quiet the voices in his head.

Williams' family said that scenario was playing out last Sunday night when they called police to their Southwest Baltimore home, hoping he could be taken to a hospital for mental health treatment. Instead, the 37-year-old was taken for treatment of multiple gunshot wounds after police say he refused to drop a knife.

Relatives contacted The Baltimore Sun, saying police had mischaracterized the events surrounding the shooting. The Police Department and the city police union declined to respond to the specific allegations.

"He's sick, and all he needed was some help," said Williams' mother, Barbara Owens, 65, during an interview in the lobby of the University of Maryland Medical Center after seeing him for the first time Wednesday.

Their complaints are based on an account from a 12-year-old nephew who they say was, apparently unknown to officers, inside the second-floor room where the confrontation took place. While police say Williams refused to drop a knife, the young boy said Williams wasn't advancing on the officers and wasn't given time to comply.

"He said [Franklin] was standing there with his eyes real big, and they told him to drop the knife," said a niece, Candice Owens, 22. "After the first shot, he fell down and balled up. Then the other officers started shooting. There's bullet holes everywhere."

They also say the officers endangered the boy by not accounting for his presence. "He could've been hit by a ricochet, or startled them and been shot," said the boy's mother, Brenda Williams-Lee.

Police identified last week the officers involved in the shooting as Sgt. Donald Slimmer, a 10-year veteran, and Officer Brian Rose, a five-year veteran. Following department protocols, the officers were not made available for comment.

Police have shot 14 people this year, killing five. In most cases, the department said a suspect possessed a gun or knife and refused to drop it or advanced toward the officer.

The total number of shootings by Baltimore Police officers has been down since 2007, when more than 30 people were shot by police. Officials say they have emphasized training tactics that give officers other options.

The use of lethal force is typically a split-second decision, and often a shooting is ruled legally justified due to what an officer perceived to be a threat, even if that perception turns out not to have been accurate.

Barbara Owens said her son has been receiving treatment for the past five years for paranoid schizophrenia at a downtown clinic. This month, his medication was adjusted, and his mother says his family began to sense trouble.

"He'd been having headaches," she said. "Then, I noticed the next day that he was acting strange, and he started drinking a lot of water."

His mother decided to buy him cigarettes to help calm his nerves, but he insisted that she stay in the house. At one point, he grabbed Owens, who uses a wheelchair, by the collar, though she says she wasn't scared because he has not previously attacked family members. She said she believes he wanted her to stay because he was scared about what he might do to himself.

Suddenly, he flashed a smile and slammed the door, locking her out.

Because there have been similar incidents in the past — the family estimates that he has one or two "episodes" a year — they called police. Meanwhile, her husband climbed in through an open window and unlocked the back door so the officers could enter.

The relatives say Franklin Williams complied with the demands of officers and unlocked the bedroom door. Barbara Owens was outside talking to a neighbor and said she heard a series of gunshots.

After being placed on a stretcher, the family says, Williams was combative and police struck him repeatedly. That's how his right leg and left arm got broken, they say. He was also shot in the stomach and has a bullet fragment in his head.

Though they say Williams is not a danger to others, his family acknowledges he has been combative in the past and had to be struck with a Taser. But they said that worked before, and they questioned why police this time used their service handguns. Some of the officers who responded to the scene that night had been summoned to previous calls at the home, they say.

Williams is listed in critical condition and has undergone multiple surgeries. "They say he might not make it," his mother said.

The family says police have an officer posted round the clock in Williams' room, restricting access to him and making it difficult to get information. That's typical when police intend to charge someone after they are released, but police won't say what charges Williams might be facing.

"We're conferring with prosecutors," spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said.

justin.fenton@baltsun.com


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