Michelle Lee Shirley became the latest mentally ill person to be killed by police after she allegedly attempted to hit officers with her car, according to local reports. Mobile phone footage shows three Southern California officers shooting and killing the 39-year-old African American mother, in a suburban neighborhood outside of Los Angeles after she refused to stop for them on Halloween.
The incident occurred shortly after 2:30 p.m. when police responded to multiple 9-1-1 phone calls about a possible intoxicated driver, police Sgt. Paul Kranke of the Torrance Police said in a news release. Officers alleged that when they first saw Shirley’s car, there was already collision damage, and its airbags were deployed. At one point, police said Shirley was seen driving on the wrong side of the road and crashed into several vehicles.
Officers were led on a short pursuit when Shirley did not respond to initial police tactics attempting to stop the vehicle, Kranke said. One officer reportedly executed a “PIT maneuver” with his cruiser to eventually stop the vehicle, which involved ramming the back of the fleeing vehicle to make it abruptly turn sideways.
When police advanced towards the immobilized vehicle, Shirley drove at them, hitting one officer and ramming into one squad car. Three officers responded by firing their weapons into the car, killing Shirley, a cell phone video taken at the scene showed.
"The vehicle accelerated in reverse striking an occupied Torrance Police vehicle and then accelerated forward striking a second occupied marked Torrance Police vehicle," said Kranke.
Debra Shirley, the victim’s mother, said her daughter had been battling a bipolar disorder for the last 10 years while also trying to raise her young son, the Daily Breeze reported. She said that Michelle experienced delusions when her illness was out of control.
“I don’t know what was going through her head as she was driving or trying to get away…But did they have to kill her?” Debra Shirley told the Daily Breeze Tuesday. “I feel like they paint people of color with a brush that says: ‘You’re disposable.’ I really feel like police are not equipped to deal with mental illness in the field. Shoot the tires or disable the car.”
Almost half of the people killed by police in 2016 were said to have had some kind of mental health disability, according to a Ruderman Family Foundation, a disability organization based in Boston, report.
Michelle Lee Shirley is the 800th person killed by the police so far this year, according to a Washington Post database that tracks police killings, and the latest instance in which police killed someone who was previously diagnosed as mentally ill. In October, The New York Police Department came under fire from mental health advocates and Black Lives Matter for the shooting of 66-year-old black American, Deborah Danner, who officers reportedly already knew suffered from schizophrenia.
A separate Washington Post report found that of the 243 people with mental health problems officers fatally shot in 2015, 75 of them were suicidal, and 168 of them had already been confirmed with a history of mental health by either the police or family members.
“The analysis found that about 9 in 10 of the mentally troubled people were armed, usually with guns but also with knives or other sharp objects. But the analysis also found that most of them died at the hands of police officers who had not been trained to deal with the mentally ill,” the report said.