(Joshua Krause) Last summer, 35-year-old Jeanetta Rily was shot and killed in front the Bonner General Hospital by members of the Sandpoint Police Department. At the time of the incident she was intoxicated, and displaying aggressive behavior. The woman had a long history substance abuse and mental illness, and after drinking a half a bottle of vodka while ranting about hurting herself and others, her husband decided the best thing to do would be to drive her to the hospital.
Once they arrived, Jeanetta grabbed a three and a half-inch knife from under her car seat. Her husband immediately ran towards the hospital and asked the staff to call the police, and within 15 seconds of arriving on the scene, the police had shot and killed Jeanetta in the parking lot. They would later learn that she was pregnant.
Until recently, the public was unaware of what exactly happened that night. Fortunately, the Guardian has received both the dash cam and body cam footage of the incident, which has left many wondering why the officers involved were exonerated.
Though it’s hard to tell what happened since she can’t be seen before the shots were fired, the police officers appear to be several yards away from her. If she was only armed with a knife, why did they feel the need to shoot? According to their testimony she was walking towards them, but they never told her to stop. Another factor that seems to be causing outrage, is the small stature of the woman. She was roughly 5 feet tall and weighed 100 lbs. Couldn’t she have been subdued by these two large, highly trained officers?
In all fairness to the police, facing an unstable person with a knife is always a scary situation no matter how big or small that person may be, and getting in close proximity to that person is always dangerous, no matter how strong or skilled the officers may be. But that begs the question, why didn’t they use a taser instead? In fact, one of the cops can be seen holstering his taser and drawing his pistol before shooting her.
And therein lies the real issue of this case. We could argue all day about whether or not this was justified, and since the footage only shows so much, we will probably never know for sure. The real issue at hand, is whether or not this was necessary.
Several weeks ago, a remarkably similar incident occurred not far from Sandpoint, Idaho, but didn’t end so badly. The Guardian reports:
The 55-year-old woman appeared to have swallowed several pills and drunk alcohol when officers arrived at her home in Spirit Lake, which is just off the road that links Sandpoint to Coeur d’Alene.
Local police chief Keith Hutcheson told the press that the woman was yelling “kill me, kill me” and lunging at officers with her knife – and that she later confessed she had been trying to provoke them into shooting her dead.
Instead, they subdued her with a stun gun. “A family member told us that she recently lost a daughter due to overdose and she’s had a history of depression,” Hutcheson said. “But, of course, we didn’t know that until afterward.”
Furthermore, this situation could have had a better outcome if the police officers involved received the proper training. Their department provided classes on crisis management, which involves teaching the police how to handle unstable people and how to de-escalate tense situations. Unfortunately, none of the police officers involved had attended that class.
A study released last year by the American Psychiatric Association found that CIT-trained officers “had sizable and persisting improvements in knowledge, diverse attitudes about mental illnesses and their treatments, self-efficacy for interacting with someone with psychosis or suicidality, social distance stigma, de-escalation skills and referral decisions.”
Much like the case of Yanira Serrano, the under-trained police have killed another person who just needed some help and compassion.
There is no excuse for CIT training not being mandatory for every officer in every state.
For a country where the police kill over a thousand people a year, I couldn’t agree more.