Two police officers shot a man who reportedly pulled a gun on them while experiencing a behavioral crisis in Northeast Baltimore before dawn Wednesday morning, Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said.
The man was critically injured in the shooting, which happened about 3:25 a.m., after police were called to a home in the 5800 block of Falkirk Road — a quiet, residential, tree-lined street near Huber Memorial Church. The call came from the homeowner, a relative of the man, police said.
The relative led officers to the man, who pulled a gun on them, police said, prompting them to shoot him “multiple times,” Harrison said. When officers searched the man, they found a second gun, the police commissioner said. Officials have not yet seen the body camera footage.
The man was taken to a hospital and was last listed in critical condition, officials said. His name was not released. Neither officer was injured, and their names also were not released. A person at the home where the shooting occurred declined to comment Wednesday afternoon.
Amid the renewed, nationwide demonstrations against police violence following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, advocates for improved social services said the shooting is the latest example of why people in mental distress need medical help, not a police response.
Money should be re-allocated from the police budget, they say, to reinvest in other resources, including alternative responses for behavioral health crises.
Sergio España, ACLU of Maryland’s director of engagement and mobilization, said a “disturbingly familiar pattern” has emerged in Maryland, “where officers called to assist someone in mental distress instead trigger a crisis, failing to see the person’s humanity and shooting instead of helping.”
Nearly 40% of the 109 people killed by police in Maryland between 2010 and 2014 “presented in a way that suggested a possible medical or mental health issue, disability, substance use or similar issue,” according to a 2015 study released by the ACLU of Maryland.
“This latest incident further points out how Baltimore’s over-dependence on police is setting them up to fail, and costing unnecessary lives,” España said in a statement.
Democratic Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young declined to comment through a spokesman, James Bentley, who said the shooting was under an “active investigation.”
The ACLU is among 60 groups in Maryland demanding that state legislators repeal the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights, which provides protections to police officers in use-of-force cases, and place the Baltimore Police, a state agency, back under the full control of the city, España said.
Mike Mancuso, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, which represents rank-and-file Baltimore Police officers, did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
The advocates also propose that a crisis support team be dispatched to mental distress calls, instead of just armed police, and want use-of-force policies and practices to be revised “to avoid unnecessary injury and death.”
“These demands must be met,” España said. “State legislators can’t post statements about #BlackLivesMatter and then not pass police reforms that begin addressing the systemic problems in police which devalue Black lives and the lives of people with mental illnesses.”
Disability Rights Maryland, formerly the Maryland Disability Law Center, has been part of a committee helping implement the police department’s consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice since 2017. It’s seeking to “stop the criminalization of people with behavioral health disabilities” by diverting them to treatment.
“In those three years, little, if anything, has changed,” the group said in written testimony to the Baltimore City Council during budget hearings last month. “Baltimore City’s 9-1-1 Center continues to dispatch BCPD police to all calls for service related to behavioral health disabilities, regardless of whether or not the person poses a threat to community safety.”
Disability Rights Maryland urged the City Council to institute a functional, 24/7 Crisis Response System to respond to mental health crises and provide a range of services for people in the city.
David Prater, Disability Rights Maryland’s managing attorney, acknowledged that the presence of a weapon can complicate and escalate such a situation. But he urged people to consider calling the Crisis Information and Referral line, 410-433-5175, in mental health emergencies, as an alternative to 911.
“We’re not insensitive to the public safety component of some of these calls,” Prater said, “but if we want to be serious about addressing this we need to look critically at the gaps in the behavioral health system and address the root causes of why these tragic encounters occur.”
Encounters between police and those suffering mental illness have ended in tragedy repeatedly across Maryland.
Last November, a Baltimore County police officer shot and killed an unarmed Eric Sopp on the side of Interstate 83. His mother had called police, saying her son had threatened to hurt himself with an ice pick. Sopp had a history of depression and anxiety.
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“A lot of police officers wouldn’t necessarily want to be responding to these calls,” said Rashawn Ray, a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, College Park. “There’s a way to restructure things where mental health specialists are responding to this initially.”
In Cecil County last year, police shot and killed James Meadows II — who was armed with a gun — after his family called 911, saying Meadows was suicidal and suffering a mental breakdown.
Ray has studied such encounters. He said confrontations of armed persons suffering mental illness are more difficult, but not impossible, to de-escalate safely.
“There are ways for mental health experts to try and talk this person down,” he said. “They should be given the time to do some of that.”
He recommends police departments spend more time and money training officers to identity a particular mental illness. Ray recalled one success story where an officer encountered an uncontrollable man with autism. The room held a guitar and piano, so the officer started playing and the man calmed down.
“The officer recognized that this is one of the things that this guy likes to do. So if I can get him focused on music, then I can calm him down,” Ray said. “It’s more about the identification. You don’t approach someone autistic or schizophrenic the same way.”
Baltimore Sun reporters Jessica Anderson, Yvonne Wenger and Tim Prudente contributed to this article.