Six police officers who killed a homeless man with a history of mental health problems in a hail of gunfire after he allegedly stole a cup of coffee, have been told that they will not face any criminal charges.
The incident occurred in Saginaw, Michigan in July 2012 when 47-year old Milton Hall was accused by a convenience store of having stolen a cup of coffee. According to the suit filed by District Attorney Hugh M. Davis, Police Sergeant Anjanette Wojciechowski was the first officer to arrive on the scene. She called for back-up because, according to the suit, the suspect did not “look so nice.”
Davis further alleges that Wojciechowski claimed she would be forced to open fire unless support arrived quickly, even though she had not been provoked or attacked. When more officers arrived, they allegedly surrounded Milton Hall and intimidated him with a police dog.
The prosecution alleges that Hall then attempted to dial 911 for help, possibly with a cell phone. As the officers continued to provoke and harass him, he produced a pocket-knife to defend himself. The officers then opened fire. Forty-seven shots were fired, 11 of which hit Hall. He died instantly at the scene.
District Attorney Davis alleges that officers were aware of Hall’s history of mental illness and should have taken this into account when challenging him:
[box type=”shadow”]”Hall had been approached, contacted, and/or detained by officers of the city on several occasions without incident prior to this date, largely as a result of behaviors related to his illness. As a result, [the officers] knew or should have known of his disability and had a duty to accommodate that disability in their dealings with him.”[/box]
Despite these facts, the Justice Department and the FBI released a statement concluding that no criminal offence had taken place and that no action should be taken against the officers involved:
“Even if the officers were mistaken in their assessment of the threat posed by Hall, this would not establish that the officers acted wilfully, or with an unlawful intent, when using deadly force against Hall.”
According to ThinkProgress, this is the latest in a number of high profile incidents involving the use of deadly force by the police against the mentally ill. In January 2013 a schizophrenic 18-year old boy was shot dead by police. He was apparently having a psychotic episode serious enough that his parents felt compelled to call the police. Instead of helping the victim or protecting him, one officer allegedly said “we don’t have time for this” and shot him dead in front of his parents. Two of the three officers involved in that incident were cleared of any wrongdoing, and the third is currently on paid leave. In December of last year, police in Los Angeles killed an unarmed schizophrenic man after a car chase. The man exited his car when he was cornered, unarmed and with his arms raised. The man was killed after police fired 15 to 20 bullets at him.