City Desk

Did D.C. Cops Know How to Deal With Mt. Pleasant Standoff?

Did D.C. Cops Know How to Deal With Mt. Pleasant Standoff?

A bad day in Mt. Pleasant left Jean E. Louis dead. Louis was fatally shot Tuesday after a Metropolitan Police Department "Emergency Response Team" broke an hours-long standoff, and Louis lunged at an officer with a sharpened object, according to reports.

The episode raises, not for the first time, some questions about whether MPD is properly prepared to deal with the mentally ill when or if they become violent. In this particular instance, according to the department, they were—a cop on the scene was part of a special team trained to deal with such deadly situations.

In two separate altercations in 2009, police fatally shot and killed mentally ill District residents. David Kerstetter and Osman Abdullahi were both shot dead after each man allegedly rushed at officers with weapons. The tragedies prompted the department to succumb to a suggestion the Office of Police Complaints had been making since 2006: MPD needed a Crisis Intervention Team like the one in Memphis, Tenn.

CIT units are trained to bring a "humane and calm approach" to a crisis involving a mentally ill suspect. That's important, as confrontations between police officers and someone who's had a psychological break can easily turn bloody.

MPD says it's not releasing details about this week's shooting due to an ongoing investigation, so we don't know what methods the CIT member might have employed to try to subdue and save Louis. In a statement, MPD does say "responders" attempted to negotiate with Louis.

Though cops are justified in using lethal force when their lives are in danger, the mission of the CIT would seem to be to prevent that kind of life-or-death scenario from emerging. One question left unanswered for now: How much influence did the CIT member have over the developing crisis? And a second: Why did a distressed man with a screwdriver require a SWAT team to lock down Mt. Pleasant?

Photo by Stefanie Gans

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  • Lee

    Mr. Smith, while I'm generally in agreement with the points of view from which you write, in this instance your headline is flat wrong. Please don't forget that MPD officers were on the scene assisting mental professionals. If those mental health professionals could not resolve the situation with their years of trainining and practice, what in the world do you want the cops to do?

    Here is what Victor Sapana of the WP reported "Police said officers went to the building Tuesday afternoon to assist city mental health workers who were trying to take Louis to a psychiatric facility."

    This renders the premis of your article false. The primary question I have is why "Less than Lethal" options were not considered for use in this situation. ERT is equipped with options like the bean bag shot gun.

  • ontarioroader

    I thought for certain the City Paper would have brought Jason Cherkis back for a guest article with his usual knee jerk 'pigs-slaughtering-the-mentally-ill' story. It's just fine to pose these sorts of questions, but be honest - right now you don't know shit about what tactics & methods were attempted before deadly force was used.

  • Lee

    @ontarioroader, I'm not certain if the last part of your post is directed at me,if it is. I did not question the officers use of force, they did what they had to do. I just wanted to know if other options were considered? Read my post again. By the way, that profanity is not called for, tone it down a little.

  • Kathy Pyne

    Thank you for this article. Regardless of fault in dealing with this particular case, this is very upsetting. The public needs to know what types of approaches can be used and should be tried before lethal intervention in dealing with mentally ill people who have become violent. I hope that our police are well trained in the best approaches and that every effort is continually made to improve the humanity of their approach. I would not want their job, and I am grateful to the police when they do their job well, but I hope that we can find better ways.

  • Weiwen

    I volunteered with a while with a CIT team (on the civilian side). I have heard of at least one incident where mental health professionals called the police without specifying the need for a CIT officer, and the officers who arrived treated the situation as a regular emergency and escalated it. So, if the mental health officers making the call were unaware of the existence of CIT officers, the responders could have gone down the path of using unnecessary force.

    Any time I see officers with automatic weapons and sniper rifles, I have to worry that they've gone out of police mode and into military mode. Military mode is justifiable if there are violent criminals. One has to ask if the officers at the scene considered the possibility of de-escalating.