Video: Dallas police open fire on schizophrenic man with screwdriver

Dallas police shoot, kill mentally ill man
Dallas police shoot, kill mentally ill man

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Dallas police shoot, kill mentally ill man 04:23

Story highlights

  • Officers say they acted in self-defense after repeatedly telling man to drop screwdriver
  • Video shows the incident, but the camera pans away from man before he's shot
  • Family's lawsuit says officers knew man was schizophrenic, employed lethal force anyway

(CNN)Jason Harrison appears in the doorway, twiddling a screwdriver between his fingers.

One of two Dallas police officers called to the scene tells Harrison to drop the tool, a command the officers repeat at least four times as Harrison's mom screams, "Jay! Jay! Jay!"
    Within 5 seconds of that first command, the 39-year-old schizophrenic man is shot five times -- including twice in the back as he crashes headlong into the home's garage door, just a few feet from his mother.
    Video from one officer's body camera fades to black as Harrison's mother wails, "Oh, they killed my son! Oh, they killed my son!" The officers continue to tell Harrison to drop the weapon.
    Harrison's family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Dallas Police Department officers John Rogers and Andrew Hutchins, saying they forewent nonlethal means of defusing the situation, instead choosing to engage "in unlawful vicious attacks" when they and the department were aware of Harrison's condition. The suit also claims the officers violated Harrison's civil rights.
    The officers, however, say in affidavits that they were forced to shoot an armed man who they deemed dangerous after he failed to comply with repeated orders to drop a screwdriver.
    The incident occurred June 14, and the family filed its lawsuit in November, but the Tuesday release of the video has put the shooting back in the headlines.

    'My son, bipolar, schizo'

    It begins with Jason Harrison's mother, Shirley Marshall Harrison, answering the door for police and nonchalantly walking out the door.
    "Oh, he's just off the chain," she says in the video. "You can hear him, talking about chopping up people."
    An officer asks who she's talking about, and she replies, "My son, bipolar, schizo," as Jason Harrison appears in the doorway behind her.
    Shirley Marshall Harrison had earlier requested assistance getting her son to the hospital, a fairly routine occurrence, according to the lawsuit.
    "The police had been to the Harrison home a hundred times or more without incident, as it was well-known in the home and community that Jason was nonviolent," the suit says.
    Though Rogers and Hutchins had Tasers and batons, they quickly drew their firearms when Jason Harrison "had made no threat against either officer," according to the lawsuit.
    Whether that last allegation is true is unclear, judging from the video, because the body camera pans away from Jason Harrison for 4 seconds before the officers open fire. Two shots hit Jason Harrison in the chest, another goes through his forearm and into his chest and the two more bullets land in his back, the medical examiner's autopsy report said.
    The police incident report says Rogers and Hutchins responded to a "major disturbance" involving a mentally ill person. Jason Harrison not only posed a threat, he "lunged at one officer," it said.

    'He refused to comply'

    Rogers and Hutchins, who both had about six years of experience at the time of the shooting, according to the incident report, gave similar accounts in their June affidavits.
    The pair received a call that a bipolar, schizophrenic man was off his medications, Rogers wrote. His mother said he was being argumentative and needed to go to Parkland Memorial Hospital, he wrote.
    Rogers arrived wearing a department-issue body camera that was not working, according to the affidavit.
    "I told the suspect to put down the screwdriver so we could talk, but he refused to comply," he said in his affidavit.
    After Rogers and Hutchins repeated the command, "the suspect stepped from the doorway and suddenly jabbed the screwdriver at my partner and then seemed to lock onto me and began to move toward me jabbing the screwdriver at me in fast motions," Rogers wrote.
    He tried to step away, but a car parked in the driveway blocked his path, he wrote.
    "It was at that time that I realized that I was going to die if I didn't stop the threat in front of me and I pulled my service weapon and fired two times in self-defense," Rogers wrote.
    Hutchins, who writes that he was wearing a "personally owned" body camera, said in his affidavit that he took Shirley Marshall Harrison's assertion that her son was "off the chain" to mean that he was "acting hostile."
    Hutchins also felt Shirley Marshall Harrison walked past him and Rogers "as if to put us between herself and her son," he wrote.
    Hutchins' story matches Rogers' account -- which is backed up by the video -- that Jason Harrison was told repeatedly to drop the screwdriver. But Hutchins makes no mention of Jason Harrison "jabbing" the screwdriver at both officers. He writes instead that Jason Harrison "advanced toward Officer Rogers while raising the screwdriver."
    "I was in fear for Officer Rogers' life and I was forced to draw my service weapon and fire it at the suspect until he was no longer a threat," Hutchins wrote.

    'A good dude'

    Neighbors told CNN affiliate WFAA that they knew Jason Harrison was mentally ill but said they never felt threatened.
    Deonte Davis, who lives down the street from the Harrisons, described Jason Harrison as "a good dude" who "just don't have it all," but he also told the station he can see where Jason Harrison's behavior might have concerned officers.
    "They don't know what he was capable of doing," Davis told WFAA.
    Added neighbor Candace Frazier, "Sometimes he'll just spaz out in the middle of the street while he's walking. ... He'll be swinging his arms like he's talking to somebody."
    At least one affidavit -- that of Dallas officer Jonathon Beamon -- seems to indicate the police had responded to the house in the past. He saw Shirley Marshall Harrison crying on the sidewalk after the shooting and escorted her to his squad car "to have a seat so she could calm down," Beamon wrote in June.
    "You remember when you and your partner came and took him to the hospital?" Beamon recalled the mother asking him.
    Beamon replied yes, he wrote, and Shirley Marshall Harrison said she only wanted her son to "take his medication because he scares me." She then asked Beamon why the officers killed her son when she had requested their help.
    "She then said, 'They could have shot him in the leg,' and I did not reply. The victim's mother then began to cry in the seat," Beamon wrote.

    Self-defense claim

    The Dallas Police Department and the officers' attorney, former state Assistant Attorney General Chris Livingston, have told media outlets the shooting was an act of self-defense.
    Livingston told CNN on Wednesday that Rogers and Hutchins are specially trained and certified to deal with mentally ill people, but that Jason Harrison left them with no options. Asked if the officers could have employed nonlethal force, he said no.
    "This is a deadly force encounter. You respond to lethal force with lethal force. A Taser is a less lethal item," he said. ​
    Reached by CNN, the Dallas Police Department said it had completed the investigation into the incident, but declined to comment on the case.
    "The investigation has been forwarded to the Dallas County District Attorney's Office for their actions. Therefore, we respectfully decline your interview request," the department said.
    A spokeswoman for District Attorney Susan Hawk said the office would have no comment because of the ongoing investigation.
    The Harrisons' lawsuit asks for damages, court costs and attorneys' fees.