When police opened fire on an Austin woman Sunday, she suffered a fate eerily similar to her father, whom authorities in Florida shot and killed 10 years ago.
Both Micah Dsheigh Jester, 26, and her father, Keith Ray Jester, wielded toy guns when police shot them. Micah Jester, a Lubbock native, held a BB gun that closely resembled a semi-automatic pistol, while Keith Jester had a toy gun that looked like a snubbed-nose .38 revolver.
Family members said that while the father and daughter were never close, his killing had always been present in Micah Jester’s mind and had a great impact on her.
“She was obsessed with his death,” her sister Leigha Jester said.
What happened to her father might have been a defining moment for Micah Jester, but family members who spoke Tuesday to the American-Statesman sought to recast cast her as a woman whose highest priority was to be a good mother to her 10-month-old and 5-year-old daughters.
“Micah was a good, loving person who would do anything for her family,” Leigha Jester said. “She was a good person and loved everyone.”
Family members said the killing of a woman in crisis was unjust, with a family friend calling the officers who shot her “murderers.” The incident left them questioning why nonlethal alternatives weren’t used to subdue her. Six people have died from Austin police gunfire this year.
Austin police responded to the South Austin apartment complex where Jester lived after her longtime boyfriend called 911 early Sunday and reported that she was in distress. He specifically requested a mental health expert to respond.
Police dispatched a member of the Police Department’s Crisis Intervention Team. However, while police were en route, they learned that Jester had armed herself. At the scene, Jester emerged from a breezeway screaming “kill me” repeatedly while pointing the BB air pistol at police. Police opened fire and fatally injured her.
Austin police Lt. Brian Jones said Monday that even when officers are responding to a mental health call, they must be prepared for anything.
“Our No. 1 priority is preservation of life, obviously, and that’s what we all strive for in any call that we respond to,” Jones said. “Just like with any call, whether mental health or not, you don’t know what you’re dealing with until you are there. And when you are suddenly faced with a set of circumstances, you have to react on the training you have.”
Austin police fielded about 11,000 mental health calls last year. More than 5,000 of those calls resulted in emergency detentions, Jones said.
Ten years ago, Micah Jester’s father had been wanted on a felony robbery warrant out of Lubbock when three police officers from Davie, Fla., near Fort Lauderdale, received a tip. Keith Jester had been hiding out in some friends’ mobile home when they informed police of his whereabouts, according to reports from the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel.
Police pulled Keith Jester’s vehicle over, and he jumped out with what was authorities later identified as a toy gun with black tape on the handle. They opened fire, killing Keith Jester in front of the home of the friends who had turned him in. He was 39.
Like Micah Jester’s death, the family believes the shooting that killed Keith Jester was unjust.
Micah Jester’s relationship with her boyfriend — who family members referred to as her husband though the two never formally married — appeared to be unraveling ahead of Sunday’s shooting.
“Lately she hasn’t been who she used to be,” Leigha Jester said. “She was going through a lot of stuff in her life.”
A public records search shows Micah Jester was arrested multiple times on charges of felony assault and drug possession, and her family acknowledged a history of drug use.
Jones said that mental health calls are a growing problem facing police in Austin and across the country.
“We are not trained mental health clinicians,” he said. “However, when these problems come to the forefront and bubble up to the surface… (people are) going to pick up the phone and call 911. Who responds? The police.”
People in danger to themselves or others should contact 911 and ask for the Crisis Intervention Team or an officer trained to handle mental health issues. People experiencing a crisis can also call the 24/7 Crisis Hotline at 512-472-HELP. Mental illness advocates recommend providing as much information as you can in a calm and clear manner.
The Austin chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness recommends the following crisis services in the Austin metro area:
- Travis County Crisis Intervention Team: 512-854-3445
- Austin Police Department Crisis Intervention Team: 512-854-3450
- Austin State Hospital: 512-452-0381
- Seton Shoal Creek: 512-324-2000
- Austin Lakes Hospital (located in St David’s Pavilion in downtown Austin): 512-544-5253
- National Alliance on Mental Illness Austin Office: 512-420-9810
- Williamson County Crisis Intervention Team: 512-943-1650
- Hill Country MHDD Centers (Hays and southern counties): 877-466-0660
More contacts and information can be found at www.namiaustin.org/crisis-resources/.