Brooklyn Man Shot by the Police Was Mentally Ill, Family Says

The killing of Eudes Pierre, 26, underscores the need for alternatives to having the police respond to mental health episodes, activists say.

A young man shot and killed by New York City police officers in Brooklyn on Monday was mentally ill and had previously encountered police officers during a suicide attempt, according to his family and the police.

Eudes Pierre, 26, from Crown Heights, was shot 10 times and killed when he lunged at officers with a kitchen knife early on Monday morning, near the Utica Avenue subway station on Eastern Parkway, the police said.

“My son was a good kid,” Marguerite Jolivert, Mr. Pierre’s mother, said at a news conference on Wednesday. “He was sick. He had mental disease. He didn’t deserve to be killed like an animal.”

Eudes Pierre

Mr. Pierre is the latest person to be killed by the police while in the throes of a mental health episode — deaths that activists and law enforcement experts alike say underscore the need for alternative responses to mental health crises, which police officers are often unequipped to handle.

“We recognize that police are not the best ones to respond to this situation. And yet we keep asking them to respond to it,” said Jeffrey Coots, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the director of From Punishment to Public Health, a program that helps implement alternative responses to mental health calls.

Mr. Pierre had encountered police officers during a suicide attempt years ago and had later been treated for bipolar disorder, said the Rev. Kevin McCall, a civil-rights leader in Brooklyn and a spokesman for Mr. Pierre’s family.

At the time of the earlier incident, mental health professionals responded alongside police officers, Mr. McCall said.

“The N.Y.P.D. should not be killing the mentally ill,” he said. “Just because a person is having a mental episode, death should not be that final episode.”

A police official confirmed officers had previously encountered Mr. Pierre on two occasions. In June 2019, officers responded as Mr. Pierre was attempting to jump out of a window at 1090 Eastern Parkway. Later, in October 2020, officers found him after he had repeatedly stabbed himself in the stomach. In both cases, Mr. Pierre was restrained and transported to a nearby hospital, the official said.

In the incident this week, police officers said, they received a call on Monday warning of a man armed with a gun and knife. They arrived to find Mr. Pierre, one hand shoved in his jacket and another holding a small kitchen knife. They did not find a gun.

The kitchen knife that was found at the scene.Credit…New York City Police Department

When officers tried to confront Mr. Pierre, he fled into the subway station, the police said. Two officers later deployed their stun guns, which the police said they believed did not work because of Mr. Pierre’s heavy winter coat. Mr. Pierre then lunged at officers with the knife, the police said, and was shot 10 times. He was pronounced dead at Kings County Hospital.

“The point at which he’s there, walking back and forth in a busy transit station with a knife, we’ve already lost,” said Mr. Coots. “We’ve already missed so many opportunities to have a proper intervention.”

It did not appear that any mental health professionals were on the scene when Mr. Pierre died. A Police Department spokeswoman would not comment.

Mr. Pierre was a few credits away from graduating from the College of Staten Island, Ms. Jolivert said.

Mr. McCall called Wednesday for body-camera footage of the shooting to be released. A Police Department spokeswoman pointed to the department’s patrol guide, which requires body-camera footage to undergo a departmental review before it is released to the public.

The office of the New York State attorney general, Letitia James, announced that it was opening an investigation into the shooting, as required by law.

Pilot programs that dispatch mental health professionals instead of police officers in response to 911 calls about people experiencing mental health episodes operate in limited pockets of the city. But they have struggled to catch on more widely, despite repeated episodes where mentally disturbed New Yorkers die at the hands of the police.

Mr. Pierre died just blocks from where another man, Saheed Vassell, 34, was shot and killed by police officers in 2018. Mr. Vassell, who had encountered officers before, was known to have mental health issues and like Mr. Pierre was Black. He was shot while pointing a metal pipe at police officers and passers-by; officers said at the time that they believed he had a gun.

Deborah Danner, 66, was shot and killed in 2016 in the Bronx by the police while in the throes of a mental health episode.

This summer, New York City began a mental health initiative known as B-HEARD in pockets of Harlem, which dispatches mental health professionals to mental health calls instead of police officers. Its initial results have been promising, but wider implementation has been a challenge. According to data released by the city over the summer, in the program’s first six months, the vast majority of mental health calls were still routed to the police. And the program has not expanded beyond northern Manhattan.

Social service workers elsewhere in the city have taken it upon themselves to try to mitigate interactions between those in the throes of a mental health episode and police officers.

“When you call 911, the cops come and surround you,” said Imani Henry, a social service professional who works with Equality for Flatbush, a community group in Brooklyn. “We don’t need the cops. They’re not trained. We have so many other resources in our neighborhood.”

Instead, Mr. Henry said, they encourage residents to contact them or another mental health care professional first if they see someone dealing with a mental health crisis, instead of calling 911.

Such networks exist across the city, but they are patchwork solutions, activists and experts say.

“The implementation is always a struggle,” Mr. Coots said. “We are decades behind.”

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