What began as a dramatic Los Angeles car chase last Friday ended with police firing 15 to 20 rounds at the unarmed driver, Brian Newt Beaird, who reportedly had schizophrenia. Up to 20 police officers were pursuing Beaird for suspected drunk or reckless driving, and over the course of the chase he injured passengers in another car. Beaird exited the car after the crash, his arms raised and empty-handed, only to be gunned down by police.
Gilbert Vasquez, a friend of Beaird’s, told NBC4 News that he was schizonphrenic, not drunk. “He heard voices so he probably saw the helicopter lights, the lights of the cops pursuing him,” Vasquez said. “It scared the hell out of him.” The three officers involved have been removed from the field, pending an internal investigation.
The entire incident was broadcast live on news channel KTLA, which pulled cameras away once the anchor realized officers had likely fired lethal bullets. At around 21:10, Beaird exited his car with his back to police:
According to Gawker, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck thinks it is possible one officer initially fired a non-lethal beanbag round, causing the others to fire their weapons. For now, it’s unclear exactly what happened. Protocol has officers yell, “bean bag ready” before shooting to prevent confusion. “We have a very clear warning that is part of the beanbag deployment to make sure that that exact thing doesn’t happen, he said. “I’m assuming that’s what occurred in this incident though I do not know at this point. We use the beanbags hundreds of times a year and it doesn’t result in officers firing their weapons, so I think that’s a leap although it may turn out that that’s what this is.”
Beck said that officers face tough decisions in the field, but “officers have to be able to control that adrenaline and that’s what we train them to do.”
In LA, 43 officer-involved shootings in a year is considered about average. Comprehensive data on police shootings of mentally ill people is hard to come by, but advocates on both sides think these confrontations are on the rise. Outside LA, police have gunned down mentally ill men in Texas and Vermont.