Community activists hold protest at City Hall over fatal shooting of double amputee

September 25, 2012 4:12:10 PM PDT
Anger over the controversial shooting death of a mentally ill double amputee by a Houston police officer was evident Tuesday in front of City Hall.

As the shooting that took place at the group home continues making national headlines, community members stormed Houston City Hall in protest, and city leaders started speaking out publicly about the investigation.

Holding signs and chanting, "The people united will never be defeated," more than a dozen community activists, religious leaders and concerned community members marched outside City Hall Tuesday afternoon.

These protesters were blasting the mayor's office and the Houston Police Department after an officer shot and killed Brian Claunch at a group home for the mentally ill on Polk Street over the weekend.

"How in the world can you shoot a a man in a wheelchair with one arm and one leg to death? Deadly force," said community activist Krystal Muhammad.

HPD Officer Matthew Marin shot the wheelchair-bound man during a disturbance call. Police say Claunch threatened the officer with a shiny object -- an object that turned out to be an ink pen.

"You mean to tell me you don't have the type of training that could teach you to subdue a person in a wheelchair?" said Muhammad.

These activists say that shooting is just the latest in alleged cases of police brutality they've been documenting for 87 weeks.

"We want to be clear and say this, we don't have any faith in the system and the process that exists," said community activist Kofie Taharka.

Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland and Mayor Annise Parker issued statements this week urging the public to avoid rushing to judgment before all the evidence in this shooting investigation is gathered.

"It really hurts because no one should die," said City Council Member Jack Christie.

He told us he's also concerned about the shooting.

"It's good to ask questions, we need transparency. Any way that we can ask questions to avoid this in the future will be good, so I encourage people to ask questions, but to be patient," Councilman Christie said.

The mayor says she believes the city has a very aggressive investigation policy for these types of incidents.

Earlier Tuesday

The police shooting death of a wheelchair-bound, mentally ill double amputee remains under the microscope. The shooting has divided some in our city with the police union standing by the officer and critics calling it a case of police over-reaction.

Brian Claunch, a psychiatric patient who lived at a group home for the mentally ill, was shot to death early Saturday morning by Houston Police Officer Matthew Marin. The officer said Claunch, who had a leg and arm amputated and was in a wheelchair, was belligerent and that he was waving an object in his hand that the officer could not see clearly.

Claunch suffered from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The object turned out to be a pen.

HPD says the officer felt shooting Claunch was necessary because he was in fear for his life and that of his partner, and Claunch had disobeyed his commands.

Psychiatrist Dr. Richard Pesikoff says a patient in an altered state will respond better to physical cues than to verbal ones. He says it can be effective for an officer to call for backup, and then surround the patient to show that he is physically outnumbered. He says that demonstration often gets a patient to cooperate.

"The visual reaction goes a lot more quickly for a lot of people. They don't have to process a lot of things. They see it and it gets processed immediately through the eyes. And you look around and you see 2,000 pounds of people not hurting you, just talking to you and telling you come this way. Simple commands. Don't use complex English sentences," said Dr. Pesikoff.

Officer Marin was also involved in the fatal shooting of a suspect back in 2009. That suspect had a knife.

Marin is on administrative leave, which is the procedure after any officer-involved shooting.

Community activists and advocates for the mentally ill say this is not an acceptable explanation.

"Why they didn't use mace? Why they didn't use a Taser? All he had was a writing pen, were they afraid he was going to write a complaint on them," said Community Activist Quanell X.

Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland issued this statement:

"The Houston police department places the highest value on human life and events like these are tragic and unfortunate for everyone involved. All Houston police officers receive mandatory crisis intervention training specifically dealing with persons experiencing mental crisis."

Chief McClelland has also asked the local FBI to monitor and investigate the incident, along with the agencies who are already conducting their investigations.


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