When is shooting the mentally ill justified?

This is a hard subject to discuss. But in the wake of a video released by the American Civil Liberties Union that shows police fatally shooting a mentally ill man in Michigan, back in 2012, it seems apropos.

Obviously, one can answer the question in a simple and straightforward manner, you shoot a mentally ill individual under the same circumstances that you shoot a criminal: when that individual puts one at risk of death or great bodily harm.

Yes, this is true. But I can’t help but to wonder if I would extend a mentally ill person more slack than I would a criminal, assuming I knew that the individual was mentally ill.

Allow me to explicate because without an example it sounds rather stupid to suggest that I’d differentiate between the two threats as at the end of the day an imminent threat is an imminent threat.

First off, a criminal with a gun or a mentally ill person with a gun are the same level of threat. All bets are off in that case, and I’m not waiting to see what happens, I’m shooting until the threat is neutralized, assuming I have the upper hand and we’re not at a standoff. What I mean is, if either a gun-toting mentally ill person or a gun-toting criminal broke into my house in the middle of the night, I’m not discriminating, both are getting shot.

Under different circumstances, like the scenario above, suppose that you’re facing a criminal with a pen knife and a mentally ill person with a pen knife. Should you give the mentally ill person more latitude — again, assuming you know that the individual suffers from a mental illness? Should you go to a greater length to de-escalate the situation? Should you be more patient? Should you be more inclined to try non-lethal force?  Would you treat the threats equally?

I don’t know the correct answers to those questions, but I’m inclined to say that I’m more tolerant to the misdeeds of the mentally ill than I am of the crimes of criminals. It has to do with human volition. Maybe it’s naive of me to say this, but criminals consciously choose to break the law whereas the mentally ill may lack the faculties to discern between right and wrong, lawfully behavior and unlawful behavior, etc. For criminals, you play stupid games you win stupid prizes, so if a criminal gets shot while attempting to rob a grocery store, I have no remorse for that criminal. Maybe I should, and that shows a lack of humanity on my part. But if a mentally ill man goes off his medication, acts out because he’s overstimulated or chemically imbalanced, proceeds to grab a knife and run out onto the streets, I feel bad if he is fatally gunned down because did he really mean to grab that knife and go wild? Was it really his choice?   Or was he just responding to a sudden change in his environment?

Maybe that’s just me, the way I think about bad guys and those who act badly because of a mental illness.

Now back to the video above. The ACLU presented to the Organization of American States on Monday to get it to raise awareness about the shooting of Milton Hall, 49, a mentally ill man who was armed with a penknife when he was fatally wounded by police in Saginaw, Michigan, in July of 2012. The Justice Department in February said that it failed to find “sufficient evidence of willful misconduct” on behalf of the officers.

According to the Huffington Post, ACLU attorney Mark Fancher likened the shooting to a “firing squad” and said it “not only reckless, but clearly unjust, and also grossly violated Milton Hall’s human right to life.”

Since the OAS is an inter-continental organization it has no real sway over the federal government. That said, Michael Steinberg, legal director of the ACLU of Michigan, told Huffpo he hopes the hearing will serve “as a wake-up call for the desperate need to address police misconduct against the black citizens of this country.”

“The power behind these international tribunals is to draw attention to the problem and to put pressure on the United States to abide by human rights principles,” Steinberg said.

What are your thoughts? Was the shooting of Milton Hall justified?

{ 12 comments… add one }
  • ENIGMA6 November 3, 2014, 9:28 pm

    If someone presents an immediate deadly threat to another, lethal force is justified, the suspect’s mental health not withstanding. All this armchair quarterback blather about beanbag rounds, chemical agents, tasers, ropes, blankets, or snipers just tells me they have never faced a madman with a weapon. BS like that in the street will get you dead PDQ. Suspects jacked on drugs or in a psychotic frenzy feel no pain, have superhuman strength, and no hesitation to harm others. If there is time and alternatives to lethal force works, fine, but high velocity lead therapy always works when properly delivered.

  • Damon November 3, 2014, 4:48 pm

    Hmmm . . . . I know a few professional LEO. Two of them are Marine combat veterans. Either one of them would have waded into the gentleman with the knife with a nightstick , a baton, or pepper spray, and both parties would have lived to see the next day.
    Looking at the video closely, these do not seem to be the same caliber of cops (pardon the pun). The fellow who eventually calls the ceasefire (ranking officer on scene?) appears to be grotesquely overweight. While firing, the whole line is falling back under the recoil of their weapons like girls at the range for the first time. And 11 hits out of 47 fired rounds? From 50 feet? There are hardly words to describe the disgust I feel for this particular pack of pigs. People wonder why I prefer to provide my own protection for myself and my family? Just take a look, and realize how hollow “Protect and Serve” rings when applied to some of our public servants.

  • Damon November 3, 2014, 4:46 pm

    Hmmm . . . . I know a few professional LEO. Two of them are Marine combat veterans. Either one of them would have waded into the gentleman with the knife with a nightstick , a baton, or pepper spray, and both parties would have lived to see the next day.
    Looking at the video closely, these do not seem to be the same caliber of cops (pardon the pun). The fellow who eventually calls the ceasefire (ranking officer on scene?) appears to be grotesquely overweight. While firing, the whole line is falling back under the recoil of their weapons like girls at the range for the first time. And 11 hits out of 47 fired rounds? From 50 feet? There are hardly words to describe the disgust I feel for this particular pack of pigs. People wonder why I prefer to provide my own protection for myself and my family? Just take a look, and realize how hollow “Protect and Serve” rings when applied to some of our public servants.

  • listen to this November 3, 2014, 2:17 pm

    Why not shoot him? The FDA and the pharmaceutical drug companies all ready make it worse by getting the mentally ill chemically dependent on psychiatric drugs like the mass shooters who stopped taking them before they shot up the place. These mass shooters were then killed or locked up later with a even worse imbalance with out the drugs they became dependent on.

  • Rene Buesa November 3, 2014, 1:07 pm

    This message is for Milton Hall’s mother, ma’am your child was murdered! I’m really sorry to say this, but when a group of heavily armed and armored Police personnel can form a firing line, train their high-power weapons on one lone individual, and simultaneously fire their lethal cartridges simultaneously at a single source of the perceived threat it is called “death by firing squad”. Albeit, the way law enforcement police groups around the country can influence and get legislators to enact and subsequently legally justify this type of public event when it inevitably occurs and re-occurs is the sole source of the problem; not the occasional happenstance that a member of the public might be having a bad day and unknowingly waltz right into the arms of justifiable murder. Ma’am, you and your child just became another victim of the special-interest-group that the Police is as a whole and the way they operate will not change in the foreseeable future so long as they can continue to barter with individual rights and safety in exchange for society’s general sense of control and order. Doesn’t sound comforting, does it? Well, if you’re in the receiving end of this equation this social dynamic spells the makings of a contemporary family nightmare. But if your dishing the final say on the matter you get to “go home”, “be safe”, “see your family again”, and do it all over again the next day if need be on the misguided notion that by absolutely murdering a lone person who might have needed help more so than death by firing squad somehow public-safety is ensured. If this looks lobed sided to you then now it’s a good time to change how civil society is to be policed!

  • Ken W. November 3, 2014, 10:04 am

    I’m certain there are many aspects that were not shown. I was in Law Enforcement and know that each and every situation is unique. Based on what has been shown or audio clipped I would have given the man space and maintained the “20 foot rule” and tried to calm the man. As long as the spacing was maintained and there were no overt threats to break that spacing I would have continued my efforts to defuse the matter. In “my day” we did not have Tasers, Bean Bags, Net Launchers, etc.; the only option open then would have been to wait until sufficient backup was available and then try to smother the individual using a heavy canvas tarp that many of us carried in the back of our patrol cars. In this matter and with the options that today’s officers have, I find the end result to be very questionable. However, I will end on this note; at any time the individual presented a clear and present threat of significant injury or death to another … I would have shot them.

    • Shane November 3, 2014, 12:29 pm

      I agree with Ken – the old school approach worked then and would still work now.
      Defusing the situation should have been the first course of action
      The second issue was the use of 5.56 cal rifles and numerous rounds fired at the victim
      was there any concern for other citizens within pistol and certainly rifle range.
      To me that is clear negligence of the officers and that should be addressed as well

      • dink winkerson November 4, 2014, 12:26 pm

        They don’t care. Cops are often excused for injuring bystanders in a lethal confrontation.

  • Lars November 3, 2014, 9:35 am

    Oh my God! There was no reason to shoot that guy. Got beanbags? Got nets? Got a rope or a blanket? Take him down, but don’t kill the guy. All those cops should be relieved of duty; Period. Six cops should mean a maximum of 6 bullets in the very worst case, but not here. And Saginaw had better start some sort of shooting course so some of the bullets these guys put out actually land where they intend. That’s criminal negligence right there. All those cops should have had menacing charges against them, if not homicide. The more of these videos I see, the less pro-cop I become, and I am definitely pro-cop. The Justice Dept had its head up its arse when it said it couldn’t find misconduct as six cops fired 47 rounds of rifle and pistol at a knife. Worst case, why didn’t someone shoot his knife arm when he stopped moving? He didn’t need to be killed. No, that was an assassination. (shakes head in sorrow)

    If cops keep doing things like this, when the SHTF, they’ll find themselves -entirely- alone when it comes to stopping crime and criminals. I don’t think they’d like that very much. It’s not too late, guys. SHAPE UP! You need our help! I read that there is only one cop per 10,000 people in the USA. Keep some of us on your side, eh?

  • Dave jams November 3, 2014, 8:55 am

    Blind folks should not have guns even cops

  • Gene November 3, 2014, 7:38 am

    A guy with a knife is a guy with a knife, no matter what his mental state is, it is lethal force. What bothers me in this instance is 47 shots and 11 hits? (reminds me of the old “Cow Patty” song, “Patty and the killer missed each other, but they shot that town to hell…”) One has to assume that the abysmal shooting precludes the use of less than lethal force, the guy was apparently safe from everything except volley fire. This police force has some problems. These guys are supposed to be trained in the use of firearms, and I realize it is a highly charged situation, but this is unacceptable. I do not blame the individual officers for this, this kind of thing is a problem from higher up. Although now that they know there is a problem, the individual officers should do something about their shooting skills. What they do now may save or cost them their lives later.

  • Mark Insko November 1, 2014, 8:14 am

    The time they had they should came up with a nonlethal means of capture. They could of used shotgun beanbags, knock out dart and nets. If that didn’t work then have sniper shoot hand or arm with knife in it.

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