The family of Jason Harrison released video Monday of Dallas police shooting dead their 38-year-old son just seconds after police arrived at the family’s front door. Harrison’s mother had called the police in June for help getting her mentally ill son to the hospital, as he was off his medication and experiencing a crisis.
The video shows two officers knocking on the door, as Harrison’s mother calmly answers and walks out, telling the officers that her son is “bipolar schizo.” Harrison stands in the doorway carrying a small screwdriver no larger than the size of his hand. Cops raise their guns and tell Harrison to “drop that for me” as Harrison appears to take a few steps forward and his mother screams “Jay” repeatedly.
Police fire several shots as Harrison drops to the ground. The mother shouts out in agony, “Oh! you killed my child!” Between the time officers first knock on the door and the time Harrison is on the ground, less than 20 seconds have elapsed.
Here’s the video, which contains violent content:
The lawyer for the police told the Dallas Morning News the officers felt threatened by the screwdriver, which could be used as a deadly weapon with “one blow.” And police saysay that Harrison’s mother described Harrison as “acting violently” when she called 911.
The Dallas District Attorney’s office is still investigating whether to file criminal charges. But Harrison’s family obtained the video from a police body camera for use in their civil lawsuit, and said they released it hoping to spark reform on police interactions with the mentally ill.
Studies in several cities have found that about half of police shooting victims are mentally ill, and that the mentally ill are disproportionate victims of excessive police force. Too often, these incidents started as calls for help. Another case that is now before the U.S. Supreme Court involves a lawsuit by a woman who actually survived a police shooting, after officers were called to a San Francisco group home for help transporting Teresa Sheehan to a mental health facility.
Part of the problem is that the typical strategies used by officers when faced with suspects they perceive as violent have an adverse impact on the mentally ill. Another part is whether police are held accountable for rule violation even in cities that do have standards for dealing with the mentally ill. Barking police commands, for example, typically aggravates tension. And among the recommendations of a 2012 report to police chiefs on the use of force against those with mental illness or addiction problems are “slowing down the situation” by getting a supervisor to the scene, and identifying “chronic consumers” of police services. But these tactics are under-employed in many police interventions.
The release of the video comes just a week after police shot dead 27-year-old Anthony Hill, an Air Force veteran with bipolar disorder. Police in Decatur, Georgia, responded to reports that he was crawling around the grounds of an apartment complex naked. They shot Hill after he began running toward them and police said he wouldn’t stop when ordered. Hill was unarmed.