Thursday, 22 Oct 2020

Four Louisiana Officers Charged in Death of Black Man With Mental Illness

Four Louisiana police officers were indicted Friday on charges of negligent homicide and malfeasance after they used excessive force and a Taser to arrest a mentally ill Black man and then failed to give him medical attention, prosecutors said.

The officers with the Shreveport Police Department — Treona McCarter, Brian Ross, D’Marea Johnson and James LeClare — were charged in connection with the death on April 5 of Tommie Dale McGlothen Jr., 44, according to the Caddo Parish District Attorney’s Office.

The Caddo Parish coroner, Dr. Todd Thoma, determined that Mr. McGlothen’s death “was preventable” because the officers should have known he needed medical treatment, prosecutors said.

The police had three encounters with Mr. McGlothen on April 5, and in each of those he “exhibited signs he was a mental patient in need of medical treatment,” the district attorney’s office said.

When the police were called for the third time, it was because Mr. McGlothen had blocked a driveway and followed a homeowner inside his house while mumbling incoherently and exhibiting signs of paranoia and emotional disturbance, the district attorney’s office said.

Police officers used Tasers, mace and nightsticks to subdue Mr. McGlothen after he fought with the homeowner, prosecutors said. Cellphone video broadcast by a local television station, KSLA, in June showed officers wrestling Mr. McGlothen to the ground, punching him repeatedly and kicking him.

Prosecutors said the officers had then placed Mr. McGlothen in a patrol cruiser on his head, limiting his ability to breathe. Mr. McGlothen was held in the cruiser, largely unsupervised, for 48 minutes and died at a hospital a short time later, prosecutors said.

The district attorney’s office said the officers had used excessive force in violation of the Shreveport police’s Taser policy, had used excessive physical force that injured Mr. McGlothen unnecessarily and had failed to take him to a hospital or call for paramedics.

Dr. Thoma found that Mr. McGlothen was “not a candidate for incarceration” given his medical status, prosecutors said. They said the officers’ actions had been “substantial factors” in Mr. McGlothen’s death from “excited delirium.”

The American Medical Association has defined the condition as the sudden death of people “who are combative and in a highly agitated state” and who have exhibited “agitation, excitability, paranoia, aggression and apparent immunity to pain, often associated with stimulant use and certain psychiatric disorders,” the district attorney’s office said.

The officers face up to 10 years in prison if convicted on both counts, prosecutors said.

All four turned themselves in on Friday and were released on $20,000 bonds, according to the Caddo Parish Sheriff’s Office. The Shreveport Police Department declined to comment on the charges or to say if the officers were still on the force.

Dhu Thompson, a lawyer for Officer LeClare, said he was “extremely disappointed” in the indictment.

“I am confident based on what we know about the case that my client will be fully exonerated,” he said. “We look forward to this trial.”

It was not immediately clear if the three other officers had lawyers.

Sgt. Michael Carter, president of the Shreveport police officers’ union, said the union was “extremely regretful” that Mr. McGlothen died. But he said the officers should not have been charged because they were engaged in a “nasty street fight.”

“They had no choice but to engage with this man who would not stop resisting a lawful arrest,” Sergeant Carter said. “This incident could not be de-escalated.”

The charges came amid intense scrutiny of police brutality after the killing in May of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, who was pinned to the ground by a white police officer’s knee in an encounter captured on video.

Mr. McGlothen’s death was also an example of what criminal justice experts consider a pervasive problem of fatal encounters between the police and people with mental illness.

Mr. McGlothen had been given a diagnoses of paranoid schizophrenia and depression and was having a psychotic episode when he was arrested, according to James Carter, a lawyer for Mr. McGlothen’s family.

Mr. Carter said the officers had brutally beaten and used a Taser on Mr. McGlothen and had then left him in the patrol car to die.

“It’s just a sad situation how the mentally disabled are dealt with and how law enforcement, when they have notification of these matters, act abusively and use excessive force,” Mr. Carter said in an interview.

At a news conference with Mr. Carter on Friday, Mr. McGlothen’s father and son thanked prosecutors for presenting the case to a grand jury.

“I just appreciate the work the D.A. has done in bringing justice for my father,” the son, Tommie McGlothen III, said.

Mr. Carter said the indictment was “only one step toward justice.”

“The family has worked very hard,” Mr. Carter said. “They are obviously exhausted but at the same time have a sense of jubilance. But there’s no mistake about it — there’s still a long way to go on this matter.”

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