Lawsuit Over Mentally Ill Man Shot and Killed by Stafford Cop Settled for $150k
Aaron Hobart was in the middle of an acute mental health crisis when his mother, Pam Hobart, called her son's psychiatrist on February 18, 2009. The psychiatrist told her to call 911 and specifically request a so-called crisis intervention team – a police unit specifically trained to deal with people in the grips of psychosis – so they could get Aaron under control and committed to a mental hospital.
Pam told the 911 dispatcher that her 19-year-old son didn't have any weapons, wasn't under the influence of any drugs, and that she just needed him to take his medicine. According to court records, Pam stressed that she wanted her son taken to a hospital, not jail. It seems Pam and her son's psychiatrist knew there might be a risk in calling a routine patrol officer to respond to a mental health crisis; they wanted officers trained to deal with people like Aaron.
Instead, what they got was Jesus Estrada, a regular patrol officer who'd been with the Stafford Police Department for less than two years. When he showed up, Aaron grew restless upon seeing a strange man in the house. According to court records, Aaron tried to escape by rushing past Estrada in the hallway; Aaron wasn't even wearing shoes.
Aaron's flailing arms must have hit the officer at some point. Estrada would later claim he feared for his life when he reached for his service pistol and shot him Aaron five times; the fifth and final bullet hit Aaron in the neck just as his father entered the hallway, according to court records.
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When the Texas Civil Rights Project first filed a lawsuit on behalf of Aaron Hobart's parents against Estrada, the Stafford Police Department and its police chief, Bonny Krahn, the group hoped to highlight how better mental health training for police officers is a life-or-death issue. The case bounced around the courts — as Stafford PD, Krahn and Estrada tried to get the case thrown out on the grounds of qualified immunity for law enforcement officials — but all remained parties in the case as it headed to trial in Houston federal court this week.
On Wednesday, just before closing arguments, Stafford agreed to pay Aaron Hobart's family $150,000, settling the case without having to acknowledge any wrongdoing. The Houston Chronicle reports that, preceding Wednesday's settlement, it was an emotional week in court for both Estrada and Hobart's parents.
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