18-year-old Keith Vidal was shot and killed by a police officer Sunday when authorities responded to a call for help from family members. Keith was in the midst of a schizophrenic episode.
According to early reports, Keith had picked up a small screwdriver and refused to put it down, an action which prompted the family to call police. Initially, two officers arrived on the scene. The following events, which ultimately led to Keith being shot, are not fully clear.
According to Keith’s father, “…all of a sudden, this Southport cop [the third officer to arrive on the scene], walked in the house [and said]: ‘I don’t have time for this. Tase him. Let’s get him out of here.”
The officer used a stun gun on Keith who, “hit the ground [and then] this guy shot him,” Keith’s father reported.
Shots were fired “seconds” after the third officer arrived.
Keith was declared dead soon after being rushed to the hospital.
When Keith’s father demanded to know why his stepson was shot, the officer said “well, I’m protecting my officers.”
Keith’s mother Mary told reporters that she had often tried to get help for her son’s mental illness. Apparently, to no avail.
The current mental health system is in shambles and it’s been this way for some time, especially for people with serious mental illnesses. There are now more people residing in jails and prisons across the United States, than in psychiatric hospitals. The Los Angeles County Jail, for instance, is considered the largest defacto psychiatric facility.
Police shootings of people with mental illnesses is not a new phenomenon. An investigation by the Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegraph uncovered “that at least half of the estimated 375 to 500 people shot and killed by police each year in this country have mental health problems.”
Their investigation also revealed that in the state of Maine, the Attorney General’s Office, which investigated all of the police shootings, never found one of the shootings to be unjustified.
There are also no federal statistics about police shootings of mentally ill people.
I have worked with many police officers who were called upon to deal with severely mentally ill people. Some felt that it wasn’t their job to deal with “those people” but many others were kind, compassionate and patient with those of whom they were attempting to help.
Studies show that police officers who have undergone crisis intervention training (CIT), are better able to effectively de-escalate a mental health crisis. CIT should be mandatory for all law enforcement officials, at least until they are no longer the front-line responders in mental health emergencies.
Keith’s parents have said that the policeman who shot their son is a cold-blooded murderer.
Keith’s parents said they cannot understand what happened.
“Where is the justice, why did they shoot my son? This is what’s wrong with our mental health system.”
The authorities are investigating the events.
— Brian Edmunds (@BrianEdmunds1) January 7, 2014
I am absolutely sickened by the story about Keith Vidal, a schizophrenic teen that was shot & killed by police. http://t.co/vjRKti9IcY
— Heather Stryk (@hstryk) January 7, 2014
— Michael Skolnik (@MichaelSkolnik) January 7, 2014
Keith Vidal’s sister collects herself before the District Attorney’s press conference: pic.twitter.com/HqeclBzXhK
— Adam Wagner (@AdamWagner1990) January 6, 2014