Shooting highlights need for mental health policies for neighbors

AUSTIN (KXAN) — While police continue investigating a deadly officer involved shooting where two Austin police officers opened fire, killing a 26-year-old woman early Sunday morning, some are questioning how the agency handles mental health calls.

It happened around 4 a.m. at an apartment complex on William Cannon at South First. Police tell us a man called 911, saying his wife had a weapon. Several officers responded, including a crisis intervention officer. They say the woman came out and pointed a gun at officers.

Asst. Chief Troy Gay told KXAN on the scene,”The female continued to come toward the officer. At that time, both officers shot at the female. The female then went down.” He went on to say, “The female continued to make comments such as ‘kill me’ on the ground as they were approaching her to disarm her at this point. The female had the weapon in her hand. It was pointed at the direction of the officers. One officer then shot several shots.”

The woman was taken to South Austin Medical Center. She died a short time later. Austin police say they have audio but no video of the shooting.

A crisis intervention officer, who is specially trained to deal with people who have mental health problems, responded. They make up a significant portion of the patrol officers.

Austin police tell us as of last April, they had 656 patrol officers. Of those, 162 can respond to mental health calls. That’s 25 percent. A special unit made up of seven officers and one sergeant train them on different ways to help in those circumstances.

But this shooting puts the focus on what experts call a “mental health crisis” here in Texas where many people can’t get access to the help they need. Neighbors Sunday point their fingers at the system.

“I was hearing her say, ‘shoot me, shoot me.’ Pretty much telling the cops to kill her,” said Chasey Pannel, who lives at the Club at Summer Valley. She says she’ll look at the laundry room at her apartment complex differently now that she saw a woman killed right on its front sidewalk. For another mental health care call, she wishes there was something in between no force and deadly force.

“When they’re not all there in the head, is that all that needs to be done? It’s just not right,” she said.

It’s a feeling many in Texas law enforcement say they relate to. It’s an issue that boiled over at a Dallas press conference after five officers were shot and killed during Chief Davis Brown’s last days.

“We’re asking cops to do too much in this country. We are. We’re just asking us to do too much. Every societal failure we put it off on the cops to solve. Not enough mental health funding, let the cop handle it,” Chief Brown said.

Lawmakers added more than $200 million in mental health funding last session to the state budget. Now, Speaker of the Texas House Joe Straus created a select committee to find the best ways to get resources to inner city and rural areas of Texas where care is hard to come by. The goal is to stop situations like Sunday’s before they happen.

“It’s not right. The victims of that family, just think of what they’re going through,” Pannel said.

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