Questions Raised About Police Shooting of Mentally Ill Woman - NBC Southern California

Questions Raised About Police Shooting of Mentally Ill Woman

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    Questions After Mentally Ill Woman Killed by Police

    The family of a mentally ill woman fatally shot by police in South Los Angeles raised questions over deadly force on Monday, Sept. 28, 2015. (Published Monday, Sept. 28, 2015)

    Demonstrators gathered Monday night to protest the police shooting death of a woman who allegedly threatened officers with a knife Sunday morning.
    The woman, identified as Norma "Angie" Guzman, 37, had a history of mental illness, according to family members and others who knew her.

    "They should have TASED her or pepper sprayed her or something," Brandy Morales said.
    Guzman had been staying in the nearby home of Morales's father in law, she said.
    The Los Angeles Police Departmnet has not explained why non-legthal options were not used.
    During an initial summary of the incident Sunday, Sgt. Frank Preciado said a unit with two officers, a rookie and a training officer, responded to a call of a woman threatening a man with a knife.
    Guzman was prone to what Morales described as "fits," during which Guzman would shout and behave irrationally.
    Several times, Guzman had been taken into custody and, by court order, committed for psychiatric evaluation.
    In most cases, she was released after 72 hours, but earlier this summer was hospitalized for about a month, Morales said. Other family members confirmed this. 
    "Why did the police do this?" Guzman's mother Gloria asked in Spanish.
    The officers were wearing body cameras.  The recordings have not been made public.  But 
    Tuesday, in response to a question, LAPD Chief Charle Beck verified that the woman can be heard saying, "Shoot me, shoot me."  
    "When an interaction between a law enforcement person and a person in crisis results in death, it's always a tragedy," said Brittney Weissman, Executive Director of the Los Angeles County Council of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
    "We know being a police officer is a tough job.  But the incident yesterday raises a lot of questions that we know the police commission and the LAPD have to investigate," Weissman said.
    In 1999, Margaret Mitchell, a homeless woman pushing a shopping cart on La Brea Avenue, was shot to death during an encounter with an LAPD officer who said Mitchell made a motion to stab him with a screwdriver.
    The department found the shooting to be within policy.
    The civilian police commission disagreed, citing flaws in the tactics of Officer Edward Larrigan.  But a department Board of Rights panel later exonerated Larrigan. 
    In more recent years, controversy has swirled around other high-profile cases that involved use of force against individuals with mental illness.
    As many as 40 percent of the uses of force by the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department involve mental illness, Sheriff Jim McDonnell told a state senate subcommittee during a hearing last May.
    In recent years, the Sheriff, LAPD and other law enforcement  agencies have begun providing additional crisis intervention training.  But at this point, only a small percentage of existing LAPD officers or LA Sheriff's Deputies have gone through the full 40-hour course.
    Weissman and the developers of crisis intervention crisis acknowledge that such techniques are not always effective in de-escalating situations, but in many cases, can be helpful.
    LAPD did not indicate how much crisis intervention the officers in the Guzman death had received.
    "We don't have all the facts," said Weissman.  "But the idea is there is training out there to reduce use of force."
    A system that allows individuals to be committed repeatedly for mental health evaluations without receiving longterm help is another issue that needs to be fixed, Weissman said, expressing hope that solutions are in the works.
    The Monday evening demonstration was organized by longtime members of the Brown Berets activist group.
    Noting the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement that has challenged police use of force against African Americans, August Cevada said, "Brown lives also matter."