Lakewood, CA — On July 6, 2015, Susan Berry was worried about her son’s behavior. He came home after being fired from his job at the pizza parlor and had been getting no sleep. So, his mother and his brother, a police officer, called authorities to receive a medical evaluation. Instead of medical evaluation, however, her son John Berry, 33, received a pack of assassins.
According to the LA Times, last week, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a $3.3-million settlement in a wrongful-death lawsuit filed by Berry’s mother and other family members, who alleged that deputies used excessive force against Berry.
John Berry suffers from schizophrenia and, according to his family, he was clearly off his medication. When police arrived, he attempted to get into his car and drive away. Instead of de-escalating the situation by allowing the entirely innocent man to drive away, officers began escalating violence.
Berry had done nothing wrong. He was only attempting to get away from what he likely perceived as a nightmarish threat when he was met with pepper spray, tasers, and baton blows.
Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies claim that Berry rammed them with his car. However, his vehicle was clearly free of front end damage that would have resulted from ramming a car.
According to deputies, the tasers, pepper spray, and baton strikes weren’t working, which is likely due to the fact that Berry suffers from schizophrenia. When Berry attempted to put his car in reverse, multiple deputies pulled out their guns.
Deputies proceeded to unleash a fury of bullets into Berry’s front windshield. He was struck 18 times out of the 50-plus rounds fired at him — and he died on the scene.
“He was unarmed. Didn’t do anything wrong. Hadn’t violated any laws. Wasn’t a danger to anybody,” attorney Steve Carlson said.
“We agonize because we try to understand, and there’s no possible way to understand what happened,” Susan Berry said.
Last year, prosecutors declined to file any charges against the deputies — Anthony Johnson, Michael Bitolas, Roberto Solorio and Eric Saavedra — saying they acted in “lawful self-defense and in defense of others” when they extrajudicially murdered Berry — on video.
“I just wish they had better training. He didn’t hurt anybody. He didn’t do anything that day,” sister Melissa Berry said.
Even if Berry did pin one of the officers behind his car, the lack of training and subsequent violent escalation by police against a mentally ill man was undoubtedly the cause of it. If Berry presented such a significant threat of running over officers, why was there an officer in such a vulnerable position?
This case is merely another indicator of police departments grossly lacking the training to deal with the mentally ill.
As the Times notes, LA county spent nearly $51 million in settlements last fiscal year to resolve legal claims against the Sheriff’s Department. From 2011 to 2016, 74% of the department’s excessive force payouts, which totaled nearly $89 million, stemmed from shootings.
California law states law enforcement must be trained to interact with mentally disabled people.
UNDER PENAL CODE 13515.25,
(A) BY JULY 1, 2006, THE COMMISSION ON PEACE OFFICER STANDARDS AND TRAINING SHALL ESTABLISH AND KEEP UPDATED A CONTINUING EDUCATION CLASSROOM TRAINING COURSE RELATING TO LAW ENFORCEMENT INTERACTION WITH MENTALLY DISABLED PERSONS.
This has obviously not yet happened.
The officers’ actions were so unscrupulous that even a fellow cop, Chris Berry, John Berry’s brother called them out this week. “This is not how you treat the mentally ill,” Chris Berry, 39, said Thursday.
“They absolutely escalated the situation,” said Berry, who works as a federal police officer at a veteran’s psychiatric facility in Long Beach and witnessed the entire incident. “They treated him like he was a suspect and they were gonna take him into custody.”
In December, the department began a 32-hour training course that teaches cops how to de-escalate situations in order to avoid the tragic outcome like Berry’s. So far, only 518 of the 17,694 employees of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department have taken the course.
Calling 911 in Los Angeles for help with a mentally ill relative or friend is still a crap shoot — even if you get one of the 518 cops who went through the training — and should only be used as a last possible resort.
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