Who Police Killed In 2014
By Carimah Townes and Dylan Petrohilos
In the months since Michael Brown was shot and killed by Officer Darren Wilson on August 9, demonstrators have marched, set up street blockades, shut down highways, and faced off against the very police officers they want brought to justice. Grand jury decisions not to indict Wilson, or the NYPD officer who choked Eric Garner to death on film, have sparked what may be a tipping point for people exhausted with the number of deaths at the hands of law enforcement.
Sadly, we know Brown and Garner were just one of many people who died at the hands of police this year. But a dearth of national data on fatalities caused by police makes it difficult to pinpoint the exact number of deaths. One site put the total at 1,039.
What we do know is that police-related deaths follow certain patterns. A 2012 study found that about half of those killed by the police each year are mentally ill, a problem that the Supreme Court will consider 2015. Young black men are also 21 times more likely to be killed by cops than young white men, according to one ProPublica analysis of the data we have. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also compiled data which shows that people of color are most likely to be killed by cops overall. In short, people who belong to marginalized communities are at a higher risk of being shot than those who are not.
Below is a list of 21 people of color and/or mentally ill persons who were killed by cops in 2014. Some cases are more clear-cut than others, but all of them raise questions about the use of force — like shooting to kill — in policing. They also prompt scrutiny of how cops confront people with mental illnesses:
1. Darrien Hunt; Saratoga Springs, UT: Hunt was shot six times and killed after someone reported a man with a suspicious sword. Hunt, who had a fascination with Japanese anime characters, was carrying a toy sword. A recent autopsy report found the shots hit him in the back, suggesting he was running away from police on the scene.
2. Ezell Ford; Los Angeles, CA: In what was described as “an execution” by family members, Ford was unarmed when LAPD shot him last August. Officers stopped him on the street, in response to a possible officer-involved shooting. One witness contends that officers beat the 25-year-old disabled man while saying “shoot him.” Others maintain that Ford was laying on the ground when he was shot.
3. Omar Abrego; Los Angeles, CA: Abrego died a mere four blocks from where Ezell Ford was shot. A father of three, Abrego was beaten to death by LAPD after a car chase last August. Witnesses allege that officers punched Abrego in the face continuously, and also hit him with a baton.
4. Tamir E. Rice; Cleveland, OH: Police responded to a 911 call about a boy with a gun in the park. Within seconds of arriving at the park, police opened fire, killing the 12-year-old who had been holding a toy gun. Officers on the scene refused to administer first aid for four minutes, and left him laying on the ground. They allegedly handcuffed his 14-year-old sister.
5. Tanisha Anderson; Cleveland, OH: Anderson, a schizophrenic and bipolar women, died after police allegedly slammed her onto the pavement outside her family’s home. Officers had approached Anderson after a caller reported her for “disturbing the peace.” Police claim that they planned to take her to the hospital for a psychiatric evaluation, and that she went limp in an officer’s arms. But Anderson’s brother and daughter deny the cops’ story and contend that the 37-year-old was slammed to the ground.
6. Rumain Brisbon; Phoenix, AZ: Brisbon was killed earlier this month, after an officer mistook a pill bottle for a gun. The officer approached Brisbon’s car after someone reported a drug deal happening near the vehicle. When asked to raise his hands, Brisbon put them in his pockets. A quick chase on foot ensued after the officer pulled out a weapon. There was a brief scuffle when the cop caught up to Brisbon, during which the latter reached into his pocket. The officer shot him, and explained later that he thought he felt a gun in the pocket. The perceived gun was actually a pill bottle.
7. John Crawford III; Beavercreek, OH: Crawford was shot by police officers in a Walmart, who were responding to a 911 call about an armed man. The caller, who originally stated that Crawford was pointing the gun at people, changed his statement later on. In a video released after the incident, Crawford was walking down a store aisle while holding a BB gun that he was buying for his children, and then swung it over his shoulder. All the while, he was talking on a phone and looking at the shelves. Officers descended upon him and fired two shots.
8. Keith Vidal; Southport, NC: Police responded to a 911 call for assistance from the parents of Vidal, a schizophrenic 18-year-old, who was in the middle of an episode. Although Vidal picked up a screwdriver, two officers were able to calm him down. But the situation turned deadly when a third cop tased the teenager shortly thereafter. That officer allegedly said “we don’t have time for this” before shooting and killing Vidal on the spot.
9. Kajieme Powell; St. Louis, MO: Just days later and a few miles away from where Mike Brown was shot, officers gunned down Kajieme Powell, who had stolen energy drinks and pastries from a convenience store. Officers said they shot Powell after he approached them wielding a knife with an “overhand grip,” and that he was within three or four feet of them. But video from a cell phone showed the 25-year-old standing farther away and with his hands by his sides.
10. Akai Gurley; Brooklyn, NY: A police officer accidentally shot Gurley, who was walking down a dark flight of stairs. The officer fired his gun while he was performing a vertical patrol, and texted a union rep as Gurley was dying. Police Chief Bill Bratton confirmed that Gurley was a “total innocent.”
11. Eric Garner; Staten Island, NY: NYPD officers stopped Garner, who was selling untaxed cigarettes, on the sidewalk. The encounter turned deadly when Officer Daniel Pantaleo put Garner, an asthmatic, in an illegal chokehold. Garner repeatedly said ‘I can’t breathe’ before dying on the scene. The entire incident was caught on camera, but a grand jury decision refused to indict the officer.
12. Mike Brown; Ferguson, MO: Brown was shot by Officer Darren Wilson, after the police stopped him and friend Dorian Johnson, who were walking in the street. After he stopped them, Wilson realized that Brown matched the description of a suspected thief who the officer was trying to find. Wilson claimed there was a physical altercation, and that Brown tried to grab his gun and charged at him. Witnesses say Brown was running away with his hands up when the officer shot him. Police kept the body in the street for 4.5 hours. A grand jury chose not to indict Wilson.
13. Michelle Cusseaux; Phoenix, AZ: Frances Garrett called Southwest Behavioral Health Services to transport her 50-year-old daughter, Michelle Cusseaux, to an in-patient facility. Cusseaux, who was schizophrenic, bipolar, and had depression, was showing signs of threatening behavior. But when officers came to take her away, the incident escalated. Cusseaux threatened them with a hammer, and was shot in her home when she wouldn’t put it down. Later Garrett said, “They knew (who) they were going to work with — a person with a mental illness. You don’t come with guns drawn, guns at her door. I’m sure it frightened her.”
14. Jack Jacquez; Rocky Ford, CO: When Jacquez returned home after babysitting with a friend, officers showed up unexpectedly and burst into the home. According to his sister in law, Jacquez was standing next to his mom with his back to the cops, when Officer James Ashby shot him two times. His fiance was woken up by gun shots. Details haven’t emerged about why officers were at the house.
15. Jason Harrison; Dallas, TX: When Harrison’s mother dialed 911, she was seeking help for her son who had bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. But the officers who responded to the call shot and killed Harrison on the front porch of his mother’s home, when he didn’t obey orders to put a screwdriver down. Police claimed Harrison was acting aggressively, but the victim’s family filed a lawsuit stating that excessive force was used. Harrison’s father also alleges that cops were previously called to subdue the victim. Video of the shooting, recorded by a body cam, has not been released to the public.
16. Yvette Smith; Bastrop County, TX: Police were called to a house where a disturbance call was placed, although a dispatcher misinformed them that the disturbance was about a gun. Officers allege that people inside the house ignored demands to step out of the home. The Sheriff’s Department originally said that Smith eventually opened the door with a gun in her hand and refused to listen to orders, which is when Deputy Daniel Willis shot her in her abdomen and hip. But the department backtracked on the gun claim hours later. Witnesses say the disturbance call was about money and not a gun, and that Smith was compliant. The 47-year-old woman died at the hospital, and Willis was indicted for murder.
17. Louis Rodriguez; Oklahoma City, OK: Police were called about a domestic dispute between a mother and daughter, but wound up killing the father outside of a movie theater. Rodriguez was trying to calm his wife down when he was approached by police and security guards from the theater. Officers began to beat him when, in an attempt to stop his wife from driving away, Rodriguez bypassed the officers. Although an autopsy conducted by the Oklahoma State Medical Examiner’s Office concluded that the victim died from “cardiac arrhythymia due to physical constraint,” a private autopsy concluded that he died of asphyxia as a result of a maneuver that restricted his breathing. The daughter, Lunahi Rodriguez, recorded the incident.
18. Matthew Pollow; Palm Beach, FL: Police were called to investigate an “armed disturbance,” when they approached Matthew Pollow standing next to a car. Pollow complied when he was ordered to remove everything from his pockets. Then Deputy Evan Rosenthal drew his weapon, alleging that the victim looked “very disturbed.” Pollow, who had a history of mental illness, grabbed a screwdriver and charged at the officer. Rosenthal shot Pollow, who died at the scene.
19. Dontre D. Hamilton; Milwaukee, WI: Hamilton, a 31-year-old schizophrenic man, was sleeping in a park when Officer Christopher Manney approached him for a standard welfare check. After assessing that Hamilton was mentally ill, Manney approached him from the back and started to pat him down. The two exchanged punches before, Manney eventually used his baton to hit the victim in the neck. Manney then shot Hamilton 14 times. Chief Edward Flynn of Milwaukee said that Manney disregarded police policy after correctly determining that Hamilton was mentally unstable. “You don’t go hands-on and start frisking somebody only because they appear to be mentally ill,” said Flynn.
20. David Latham; Northfolk, VA: According to Latham’s family, his mother and sister called 911 when he threatened his brother with a knife. Latham had stopped taking his medication for schizophrenia, which explained his behavior. When he didn’t immediately put down his knife, an officer shot Latham, who was standing in a doorway, nine times.
21. Maria Godinez; Orlando, FL: Officer Eduardo Sanguino accidentally shot and killed Godinez, a 22-year-old college student. The officer was shooting at Kody Roach, who was a caller reported for waiving a gun outside of a bar. Police attempted to tase Roach, but that didn’t work. And when Roach turned around, Sanguino shot his firearm nine times. Godinez was inside when she was hit by a stray bullet.