Last summer, a Dallas mother, Shirley Harris, called 911 to request assistance getting her adult son to the hospital. Her son Jason, 38, was an emotionally disturbed person, suffering from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. He was having an episode and she needed help to get him under medical care. Reports indicate that she specifically requested officers who had experience dealing with emotionally disturbed individuals.
Two officers, Andrew Hutchins and John Rogers, arrived at the home in response to her call. What ensued was anything but routine. Officer Hutchins was wearing a body camera, which captured the incident on video*. This body camera footage has just been released by the Harrison family’s attorney and shows a dismaying and tragic scene of events.
Ms. Harrison answers the door when the officers knock and immediately tells them that her son is having an episode and that he is “bipolar, schizo,” naming his diagnoses for the officers. She then steps out of the home. Mr. Harrison is seen in the doorway holding a screwdriver in his hand. The officer asks him to drop the screwdriver. Yelling ensues from Ms. Harrison and the officers, telling Mr. Harrison to drop the screwdriver. Things escalate in mere seconds. Mr. Harrison’s form fills the frame of the body camera and shots can be heard. He slumps to the ground, bleeding from gunshot wounds; he died at the scene.
The officers’ attorney claims that Mr. Harrison lunged at them with a lethal weapon (the screwdriver) and that they responded with the only appropriate means, lethal force. The footage tells a different story, showing a clear overreaction on the part of the officer. An overreaction that cost Mr. Harrison his life.
The other tragic aspect to this case is Mr. Harrison’s mental illness. The officers were repeatedly made aware of Mr. Harrison’s diagnoses, both prior to the call and immediately upon arriving on the scene by Ms. Harrison. A growing body of evidence is showing that police departments are better served to change the way they deal with the emotionally disturbed. In fact, just 274 miles away from the scene of Mr. Harrison’s death, in San Antonio, police officers are having a great deal of success effectively interacting with emotionally disturbed persons who are having a psychiatric episode. Unfortunately for Mr. Harrison and his family, officers in this case were woefully ill-equipped and the outcome was fatal.
Police brutality and the unlawful use of deadly force is a growing problem in our society. At Romanucci & Blandin, LLC, we are committed to protecting victims, especially those from vulnerable populations such as the emotionally disturbed, of police brutality by holding law enforcement agencies accountable for their officers’ actions.
*Please be advised that the video is graphic in nature.