In at least 21 fatal shootings by Kansas City police since 2005, there were indications the person killed was mentally ill or depressed or may have been impaired by drugs or alcohol.
In other words, the police were not dealing with completely rational people.
“People who have mental illness have a disproportionate amount of police contact in general, and some have suggested it is more aggressive police contact,” said Ken Novak, a professor of criminal justice and criminology at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. “Very often it’s because their reactions are less rational.”
Cheryl Creason, a 57-year-old white woman, had been diagnosed as manic depressive after a bitter divorce and had just been released from a nine-day hospital stay in May 2007. While in the hospital, Creason had been taken off several medications, including ones used to treat psychiatric problems.
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After her release, Creason caused a scene at a grocery store. When a manager called for emergency help, Creason assaulted the responders. She was taken back to a hospital but again was released.
The next day, Creason reportedly threatened her neighbors. She also threatened her roommate, described as a lifelong friend. When police arrived, Creason refused to come out of her home at 8124 N.W. Delta Drive. Police could see her through the windows with a rifle or shotgun. They called in tactical officers.
It was raining that night when Creason came out of the house. Police said she aimed the weapon at the officers and began walking toward them. Police said officers first tried to disarm Creason with a beanbag round, but it had no effect. Police said officers shot her to protect themselves. Two bullets struck her upper body, and a third pierced her clothing. She died at the scene.
Creason’s gun was not loaded, but police did not know that. Her daughters told The Star she did not deserve to die from a police bullet.
In at least seven other Kansas City fatal police shootings since 2005, there was some indication the person killed may have been looking to die.
Kansas City police altered their policies and approach toward people with mental illness after the 2002 shooting of Aaron Dougherty, a 26-year-old man struggling with depression who called police to his Brookside home and confronted officers with knives. Instead of suing, his distraught parents reached a settlement that included a promise by police that 20 percent of officers would receive crisis intervention training.
It is not clear if such an officer was among the many who responded on a March afternoon in 2010 when 29-year-old Mahir Al-Hakim caused a disturbance near Northwest Gateway Drive and Northwest Vivion Road in Riverside. He had been released just hours earlier from a mental health facility.
Police found Al-Hakim in a ravine with what looked like a semiautomatic handgun. He was drinking from a vodka bottle.
Six law enforcement jurisdictions responded, including Kansas City. Several officers said Al-Hakim held the handgun against his chin or head and refused commands to drop the weapon.
“The subject attempted to stand up, raised his pistol in my direction, and I fired,” Kansas City Police Officer Robbie McLaughlin said four days later in an interview with a detective investigating the shooting.
The detective asked McLaughlin why he fired.
“I felt in danger for my life and the life of other officers around me,” he replied.
Seven officers shot 20 rounds, using three rifles, three shotguns and a Glock. Al-Hakim was hit 10 times, in the face, arm, chest, left hand and left thigh. He died at the scene.
Police then discovered Al-Hakim’s weapon was a CO2-powered Daisy Powerline pellet gun without the orange muzzle that often signifies such weapons.
“He was trying to find a way to kill himself,” a former girlfriend told police.
Al-Hakim had bought knives and thrown them into the walls of the girlfriend’s apartment. He shot pellets into the walls. He bought a crossbow and shot arrows into a foam pad.
In a letter to his sister from a psych ward, Al-Hakim wrote: “I don’t want too (sic) live. I really don’t. There’s nothing here for me and that’s just the way it is.”
An autopsy later found Al-Hakim had prescription drugs in his system, and his blood alcohol content was 0.167.
His medical records say he had attempted suicide many times, including by ingesting paint thinner and swallowing cement.
Al-Hakim’s sister, Noelle Aipperspach, described her brother as quiet, intelligent and generous to other people. She said Al-Hakim was intoxicated when killed and not of sound mind to decide whether he wanted to die. She said the packaging for the pellet gun was on the ground next to him and clearly visible to the police. The officers didn’t have to kill him, she said.
“No one can convince me that an officer does not know the difference between a Daisy pellet gun and a lethal weapon,” Aipperspach told The Star. “They talked to him for several minutes. He was sitting on the ground. He was cooperative.”
Platte County Prosecutor Eric Zahnd ruled the officers were justified in shooting Al-Hakim.
Aipperspach filed a wrongful death lawsuit alleging unreasonable and excessive force, but a federal judge rejected her claim. The U.S. Court of Appeals affirmed that judgment.
[Explore the data: See The Star’s analysis of 47 fatal police-involved shootings, with details of each case.]
[By the numbers: Take a closer look at how the shooting data was assembled and what it means.]
[Costly lawsuits: In the 1990s, police paid for the fatal actions of officers in two cases.]