Prominent civil rights attorney Jim Harrington on Wednesday called for Austin police to employ an independent review of how police handle mental health calls and encounters with suicidal people.
Harrington, who founded and led the Texas Civil Rights Project for 25 years before retiring in 2015, penned an open letter to police Chief Art Acevedo on Wednesday indicating that after the latest fatal police shooting, the time had come for a review.
Micah Jester, 26, on Sunday appeared to have been suffering a mental health crisis when police were summoned to her South Austin apartment. There, police heard her repeatedly yell for officers to kill her. Police opened fire after seeing her point a weapon — which turned out to be a BB gun — that looked nearly identical to a handgun at officers, police have said.
“[I]t appears that the time has come for the police department to employ an independent consultant to re-evaluate and reform its procedures with regard to mental health calls,” Harrington said in the letter. “As has been noted, mental health calls are becoming ever more frequent.”
The Texas Civil Rights Project is not associated with Harrington’s letter, communications director Zenen Jaimes Perez said. However, the group has made similar calls in the past.
In February, an Austin police officer shot and killed an unarmed naked teenager who also appeared to be in a mental health crisis. That shooting led to the firing of officer Geoffrey Freeman and an ongoing lawsuit from victim David Joseph’s family.
Harrington said any independent review should be conducted looking at the safety of the person in distress and the safety of officer, but should be viewed with protecting the life of the person to “the maximum extent possible.”
“Particularly unsettling in this most recent case is that, yet again, there is no video recording of the incident, which seems unfathomable, given that the police were aware of the delicate situation to which they had been called,” Harrington said. “This lack of videotaping happens more frequently than it should.”
Police have recorded audio of the shooting that has not been released. However, no dashboard cameras from police vehicles at the scene were pointed toward where the shooting occurred, police have said.