Millville, NJ — Disturbing dashcam footage of police shooting and killing an unarmed mentally ill man was released this week. The video has sparked debate because the man was unarmed, however, he was holding an "unidentified object" in his hands when police opened fire.
The dashcam video is from the police cruiser belonging to Millville police officer Colt Gibson. On January 22, Gibson and several other officers responded to the intersection of North High and McNeal streets. Officers were responding to 911 calls from the man they would kill on arrival, Edward C. Gandy Jr.
Gandy was apparently attempting suicide by cop and when officers arrived, they quickly obliged.
As the Daily Journal reports:
The video begins about 10:48 a.m. with the cruiser moving north on North High Street until it reaches a point just south of the McNeal Street intersection. Gibson is off camera until after shots are fired.
As the video shows, Gandy is seen pointing an object at the officers and then putting his hands behind his back. The entire time, police are yelling at him to stop and put his hands up, but Gandy does not respond.
A few seconds after Gandy places his hands behind his back, he is shot.
Catherine Gandy, the mother of Edward Gandy, told The Daily Journal last month that her son recently was released from a mental health crisis center and had been “suicidal” since a change in his prescription medication.
According to police, Gandy called 911 telling them that he was armed with a loaded firearm and was "feeling homicidal."
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Although Gandy was unarmed, he presented a threat by pointing an object at the officers which they may or may not have been able to determine was a gun.
Below is the graphic footage. Warning, it may be disturbing to some viewers.
Sadly, this mentally ill man in need of medical treatment was killed in a manner in which dozens of people seek out every year. It even has a name: the term suicide by cop was coined in 1983 by a police officer–turned–suicide hotline operator.
“As a cop, I knew of a number of cases where it appeared that people had actually forced police officers to shoot them,” Dr. Karl Harris explained to the New York Times in 1998. “In the suicide business I saw all the different ways people attempted suicide, and it occurred to me that maybe some people were actually forcing cops to shoot them because they wanted to die.”
While there is no clear data on how many people attempt suicide by cop every year, Police One keeps an unofficial count on it, indicating that it is a serious problem. When people know cops will kill them, it may be time for new training.
As Rebecca Leber noted in the New Republic, police training in these scenarios is heavily lacking. "In practice, police are frequently the first responders to mental health crises—and they are frequently unprepared to handle them. Police training typically emphasizes asserting command and authority. As the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has pointed out that’s precisely the wrong approach to take with somebody who has mental illness, because it can disorient that person and encourage him or her to strike out."
“Traditional law enforcement tactics are rooted in logic, in reasoning – and in issuing commands for someone to comply so that we can make the situation safe right now by taking a person into custody,” said Douglas County Police Capt. Attila Denes, who's worked to improve police interaction with the mentally ill, according to an Al Jazeera report. “But barking orders at a person with serious mental illness doesn't work.”
Indeed, as the above video illustrates, it certainly does not work.