- “In November 2007, New York City police officers fired 20 shots, killing a mentally ill Brooklyn teen (Khiel Coppin, 18) they believed charged them with a gun — which turned out to be a hairbrush.” Herald Sun
- “A naked and apparently emotionally disturbed man fell to his death from a building ledge in Brooklyn on Wednesday after an officer shot him with a Taser stun gun, the police said…”The man, identified by the police as Iman Morales, 35, was taken to Kings County Hospital Center with serious head trauma after falling about 10 feet to the ground, witnesses said.” New York Times November 2008
- “Today, mental health advocacy group Rights for Imprisoned People with Psychiatric Disabilities (RIPPD) presented a plan to the NYPD outlining how to implement Community Crisis Intervention Teams (CCITs) in New York City in 2011. January 2011, RIPPD Release
- “Lawyers for a mentally ill Queens woman are claiming she suffocated after four police officers were pressing on her back while trying to handcuff her so they could take her to the hospital two weeks ago.” Wall Street Journal yesterday
For over a decade, advocates for New York City residents with psychiatric diagnoses have persistently urged NYPD officials to follow the lead of cities across the nation and adopt specially trained police-led Crisis Intervention teams (http://cit.memphis.edu/index.php) to improve police response to people with mental health problems. City officials have periodically convened work groups to look into the issue… but those efforts have historically collapsed amid claims of NYPD stonewalling.
Following several tragedies involving NYC residents with psychiatric disabilities including Coppin and Morales, NYC and NYS officials came together to author a New York State/New York City Mental Health-Criminal Justice Panel that made recommendations including “the State has mandated a 14-hour mental health training curriculum for new police recruits around the state. This has been supplemented by increasing amounts of in-service training for veteran officers and specialized training for officers who respond to “EDP” calls, including use of the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) model.” http://www.omh.ny.gov/omhweb/justice_panel_report/
Several weeks ago, 4 NYPD officers “crisis response” resulted in their physically restraining a troubled Queens woman, Sheresse Francis, who subsequently died of an apparent heart attacked. The police report said that she died on arrival to the hospital but emergency room officials found that she had been dead for 90 minutes, leading Sheresse’s family to sue NYPD to release their records about what transpired that tragic day. The family and their lawyers were joined by members of RIPPD, who were again calling for an overhaul of NYPD emergency responses to people in emotional distress.
This heartbreaking tragedy must lead, at long last, to that overhaul.
Family Sues Police in Death Of Daughter
By SEAN GARDINER Wall Street Journal April 3, 2010
Lawyers for a mentally ill Queens woman are claiming she suffocated after four police officers were pressing on her back while trying to handcuff her so they could take her to the hospital two weeks ago.
On March 15, the family of Shereese Francis, 29 years old, called for an ambulance to come to their home at 132-33 154th Street in Jamaica, Queens, saying Ms. Francis, a schizophrenic, hadn’t taken her medicines since early November and was acting irrationally, said a law-enforcement official with knowledge of the incident.
Police arrived around 10:20 that night and were told by Ms. Francis’s mother, Eleen Francis, that about three hours earlier her daughter had yelled at her and pulled her hair because she was upset that the 55-year-old mother had borrowed her makeup, the official said.
The woman’s mother and sister told police they then tried to convince Shereese Francis to voluntarily go to the hospital because they wanted her to resume taking her medication, the official said. When Ms. Francis refused, her sister, Shauna Francis, 31, called 311 asking for an ambulance. The 311 operator transferred her to a 911 operator who contacted police, the official said.
The arriving officers tried to talk Ms. Francis into going to the hospital, the official said. Police reported that she refused and began arguing with them and eventually lunged at the officers when they tried to physically subdue her. Four officers struggled with Ms. Francis and pushed her onto the mother’s bed where they attempted to handcuff her.
The law-enforcement official said Emergency Medical Service paramedics interviewed after the incident reported that Ms. Francis was on the ground still struggling with police when they arrived but soon became pulseless, around 10:40 p.m. The officers removed Ms. Francis’s handcuffs and the medics administered cardiac drugs and attempted to resuscitate her.
Police at the scene reported the resuscitation efforts inside the home lasted more than 40 minutes before Ms. Francis was taken to Jamaica Hospital where she was pronounced dead at 12:25 a.m. on March 16.
The official said a doctor who treated Ms. Francis reported finding no visible signs of trauma.
Steve Vaccaro, an attorney for Ms. Francis’s family, said he would answer questions relating to the incident at a news conference scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.
A statement announcing the news conference stated that Ms. Francis was “suffocated in her home on March 15 by NYPD officers responding to a call to take her to the hospital.” A person close to Ms. Francis’s family said it appeared that one of the officers was hitting Ms. Francis in the head while trying to subdue her.
Neither Ms. Francis’s mother or sister, the only two witnesses to the incident, are recorded in police reports as having told investigators they saw Ms. Francis being punched or struck, the law-enforcement official said.
The statement announcing the news conference said that Ms. Francis’s parents have filed a lawsuit requiring the New York Police Department to preserve and turn over all reports and evidence related to the incident.
Ellen Borakove, a spokeswoman for the city’s Medical Examiner’s Office, said the cause of death is still pending. Paul Browne, the NYPD’s spokesman, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Monday night.
Did The NYPD Suffocate A Mentally Ill Woman To Death While Trying To Cuff Her?
By James Thilman The Gothamist April 3, 2012
This afternoon, the family of Shereese Francis, a 30-year-old woman with a diagnosed mental illness, held a press conference at 1 Police Plaza demanding accountability for her death at the hands of police officers on March 15th. A disoriented Francis suffocated in her Jamaica, Queens home as officers attempted to handcuff her-they had been called to the home by her family, who had requested medical attention. Francis was apparently frightened and confused when officers arrived at her home and pleaded for them to leave while threatening to “call the cops.”
Nearly two dozen supporters stood with the family in solidarity today. “This is a tragedy for all New Yorkers who care about people with mental illness,” said Jennifer Parish of the Urban Justice Center’s Mental Health Project. “This was preventable. More than 1000 jurisdictions have adopted some form of Community Crisis Intervention Teams which are put in place to deal with situations just like this one. [Shereese] just needed to get to the hospital,” she said, “but now she’s dead because they treated her like a criminal.” The organization Rights for Imprisoned People with Psychiatric Disabilities (RIPPD), delivered a proposal to the NYPD on January 13, 2011 recommending that crisis intervention teams be instituted in New York.
Four police officers allegedly pursued Francis throughout her home, finally cornering her in a basement bedroom where they subdued her face down on a bed. Her sister Shauna, who witnessed the incident with her mother, Eleen, noted in a complaint filed this morning that she could see Shereese was struggling to breathe before she went into cardiac arrest. Emergency medical responders were unable to revive her and she was taken to Jamaica Hospital Medical Center. Notably, the Ninth Circuit court stated in Drummond v. City of Anaheim that handcuffed individuals in an agitated state are prone to suffocation under the weight of restraining officers in what has come to be known as “compression asphyxia.”
Francis’s parents have filed suit against the NYPD, as well as the the four officers involved, requesting the release of evidence surrounding their daughter’s death. “We were stonewalled for weeks only to have details leaked to the Wall Street Journal by anonymous sources. Why were those details not made available to the family?” asked the family’s attorney, Steve Vaccaro, “Only when we announced this press conference did IAB return our call wanting to speak to the family.”
Vaccaro, who also represents the family of slain cyclist Mathieu Lefevre, criticized the NYPD’s ongoing efforts to withhold information, “On March 21, we made a request pursuant to the Freedom of Information Law on NYPD for information about Shereese’s death. NYPD’s response was that they needed a month to think about how and whether they would respond. They gave us no information whatsoever. This is the NYPD’s standard play with victim’s families. Stonewall and delay,” he said, “Never again will we accept indifference and lies from NYPD instead of the compassion and professionalism we have a right to expect.”
A terse police report indicating that she “went DOA” at the hospital conflicts with the statements from emergency room personnel who reported she had been dead for more than 90 minutes prior to arriving at Jamaica Hospital Medical Center. According to the affidavit filed by Francis’s parents, she was in good physical health aside from mental illness and had no record of violence. (Vaccaro would not elaborate on the nature of her illness.)
The family is suing the city demanding that the NYPD turn over all evidence related to Shereese Francis’ death. In a statement, NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said, “the Internal Affairs Bureau’s investigation of the allegation to date has found nothing to support the claim that the woman was suffocated.”
Family Sues NYPD Over Death of Mentally Ill Woman
By Mirela Iverac WNYC Blog April 03, 2012
The family of a mentally ill Queens woman who died after police were called to take her to the hospital said Tuesday they filed a suit against the New York Police Department.
According to the lawsuit, Shereese Francis, 30, was suffocated in her home on March 15 by NYPD officers. Francis’ parents, George and Eleen, have filed suit against the officers and the NYPD to require that the department preserve and turn over evidence of their daughter’s death.
“Four police officers were resting their weight on Shereese Francis while she lay face down in a bed with her hands cuffed behind her back,” said Steve Vaccaro, the family’s lawyer. “This particular restraint maneuver has been shown in many, many cases to cause what’s called compression asphyxia. It has killed many people.”
Paul Browne, spokesman for the NYPD, in a statement to WNYC, said that “the Internal Affairs Bureau’s investigation of the allegation to date has found nothing to support the claim that the woman was suffocated.”
Browne said the Jamaica Hospital attending physician’s finding regarding Francis’ death was “that heart failure was the cause of death” and that there was “no indication of trauma.” He expects the Medical Examiner’s findings will confirm this.
Ellen Borakove, spokeswoman for the Medical Examiner’s Office, said the cause of death is pending additional testing. It is expected in about two weeks.