Police fatally shot an unarmed man, Kenneth Brian Releford, early Thursday morning near downtown, following a confrontation when he approached officers with a hand tucked behind his back, police said.
This was the second time in three weeks that police gunned down a person who had a suspected mental illness, underscoring an issue police still haven't solved. How do you both ensure that police can protect themselves against someone who potentially has a gun, while at the same time ameliorating the risk of killing an unarmed, mentally unstable person?
Every police officer must take a training class on mental issues, said Jodi Silva, a police spokesperson. But outside of that? It's up to the individual officer to seek additional preventive training if they want it. Silva said she didn't know how many hours police spend in the class or what it covers.
It's unclear, however, if any amount of training would have changed what occurred on Francis Street early Thursday morning. HPD spokesperson John Cannon said police went to the neighborhood following a confrontation among residents in which Releford had allegedly sexually assaulted a boy down the road. He said Releford knocked down the front door of the boy's house, pushed aside an 87-year-old man in a wheelchair and took the boy to a backroom where he sexually assaulted him.
When officer J. Rosemon arrived, he went to Releford's house, and knocked at his door. Releford answered and, police said, began yelling. His hand was behind his back. He began approaching police, Cannon said. Releford wouldn't back away or follow orders, Cannon said. Roseman, apparently fearing for his life, shot and killed Releford.
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This instance is by no means an aberration.
Last month, HPD gunned down Brian Claunch, a wheelchair-bound double-amputee, who had been waving a silver pen. Police said they'd feared for their safety; it became clear in the days afterward that Claunch had been mentally ill.
Last summer, police fatally shot Rufino Lara, an undocumented worker from El Salvador, after he didn't show his hands like police had asked him to. Lara, police said, had his hand in his waistband, and police were concerned he was armed when they shot him.