Crime

How a broomstick-swinging, mentally ill man ended up shot dead by police

Hall’s mother, Catherine Daniels, left, and her wife, Marsha Brown.
Hall’s mother, Catherine Daniels, left, and her wife, Marsha Brown. Family photo

Well before sunrise on a chilly Sunday morning, Catherine Daniels begged her son to come in from the cold. As he turned and came at her with a broomstick handle, she locked the home’s front door and called police for help.

Only a week out of a mental health facility, Lavall Hall, 25, needed help — again. But the next few moments of interaction with Miami Gardens police officers proved fatal for Hall, who witnesses said lay face down and handcuffed near the middle of Northwest Second Court after being shot by police.

Daniels said she told police repeatedly that her son was schizophrenic and bipolar and took medication, and that he needed to go back to the hospital for help.

“If I had known they were going to kill my child, I never would have called them,” Daniels said Monday, still emotionally charged from her son’s death the day before. “I’m not going to rest until I get some justice.”

Miami Gardens Police Chief Stephen Johnson confirmed one of his officers shot Hall, but wasn’t willing to offer up much until listening to a copy of Daniels’ call to 911. He said Hall struck two of his officers with the broomstick. One was treated at the scene and the other required stitches at an area hospital.

According to witnesses and family members, the scuffle between Hall and police began on the front lawn of a neighbor’s home about three houses east of Daniels’ home at 19157 NW Third Ave. The family said someone who witnessed the confrontation told them that’s where Hall struck the officers, who then fired a Taser at him.

In a rage and with the Taser having little or no effect, Hall ran off, turning south down Second Court before he was shot.

“We were dispatched by the mother at her request,” Johnson said. “He was a violent person she was afraid of. She hid herself in a room.”

Miami Gardens has a specialized police shooting team that will investigate the incident. Still, police-involved deaths have become a hot-button issue that only intensified after the public unrest that followed the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York. In recent months, the two largest agencies in the region, Miami-Dade and Miami police, have agreed to let the Florida Department of Law Enforcement handle future police-involved deaths.

Ultimately, Miami Garden’s findings will be handed over to the Miami-Dade state attorney’s office, which makes final decisions on criminal wrongdoing in police-involved shootings, findings that are extremely rare.

Whether police should have shot Hall or not, Sunday’s incident again spotlights the difficulty police have in dealing with mentally ill subjects. More than a decade ago, after several confrontations with mentally unstable subjects turned disastrous, the court-created Criminal Mental Health Project established crisis intervention teams [CIT] made up of police officers to try to keep both sides safer.

Though the CIT classes are voluntary and offered monthly, they are not mandatory for most police departments. The city of Miami has about 100 officers, or about 10 percent of the force, CIT- trained. Johnson couldn’t provide a number Monday but said it was an area he was looking into.

Last year, after an ugly confrontation between police and the family of a man with mental-health issues, Habsi Kaba, who coordinates the Miami-Dade County-run program, said “it helps officers to develop compassion,” and called the training “vital to the safety of officers and the community.”

One incident last year in Miami highlights the difficulty police sometimes have in dealing with the mentally ill. Fortunately, no one died that day. But police lost control of the scene and had to call for almost two dozen backups. The mentally ill man suffered a head injury, and in the ensuing melee his brother and sister — who said they were just trying to help — ended up arrested.

Johnson, the Miami Gardens police chief, defended his officers Monday, saying despite claims by Daniels that police should have been familiar with her son because they’d been to the home before, it didn’t necessarily mean the officers who responded knew Hall.

Johnson said police rely on information presented to them at the scene, and Daniels told them she was afraid of her son who was swinging a broomstick, essentially a weapon. He said he believes the officers involved in the incident, who have not been named, received training on how to deal with mentally ill subjects, but he couldn’t be sure until he sees their files.

“We do provide that training department-wide,” he said. “It’s not mandatory. But it’s something we ensure everyone is up-to-date on.”

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