Tragedy struck in June at a Corona, California Costco, when a 32-year old man was fatally shot by an off-duty Los Angeles Police Department officer. The officer also wounded the parents of Kenneth French. The officer's gun was the only one involved in the incident. While it is unclear what provoked the shooting, witnesses had stated that Kenneth French initiated the interaction when he pushed the officer who was holding his toddler son. The action was unprovoked.
Kenneth French's parents attempted to intervene and explain that their son had a mental disability. French was a man who was schizophrenic, nonverbal, and suffered from an intellectual disability. French had been experiencing a medication change at the time. When French’s mother stepped in between the officer and her son, she was shot in the back. French’s father was also shot during the incident. French was ultimately killed by the officer. The officer was placed on administrative leave.
Need for Training
This tragic incident underscores the need for law enforcement officers to be trained on how to handle situations involving people with mental disabilities. Once the officer was informed that French had a mental disability, the officer should have handled the situation differently. With proper training, he may have been able to defuse the situation without violence. Law enforcement should be trained on appropriate de-escalation tactics to use when faced with a person who has a mental disability.
While LAPD officers do receive some training on how to handle mental health crises, it is clear that more education is needed. People with intellectual and developmental disabilities sometimes act out their frustrations physically rather than verbally. They don't interpret their environment the same way other people do. Yelling or getting into an argument with the person is not the answer. Family members often know how to defuse the situation properly, but in this case, French's family was shot rather than given the opportunity to calm their son down. Officers should be trained to take cues from family members and caretakers when handling mental health crises.
Unfortunately, without proper training of law enforcement officer, the world becomes a dangerous place for those with mental disabilities. Their lives are in jeopardy every time they leave their homes. Individuals with mental disabilities should be able to look to law enforcement for help in a crisis and not be afraid they will be injured if they approach a police officer.
If you or a loved one has a mental disability and has been arrested or convicted of a crime, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side. Elizabeth Kelley specializes in representing individuals with mental disabilities. To schedule a consultation call (509) 991-7058.