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Video: Dallas cops fatally shoot mentally ill man wielding screwdriver

Suspect became aggressive when the officers ordered him to drop the weapon in the June 2014 incident, according to police


By Naomi Martin
The Dallas Morning News

DALLAS — A newly released video of a fatal shooting by Dallas police shows the moments that led to a mentally ill man’s death as he held a screwdriver.

Two Dallas police officers shot Jason Harrison, 38, at his home on June 14. Police said at the time that Harrison’s mother told them he was making “violent threats” and that Harrison, who was armed with a screwdriver, became aggressive when the officers ordered him to drop it.

But Harrison’s family and their attorney, Geoff Henley, released the video saying they believe it should spark reforms for policies and training on how police interact with the mentally ill. Also, they said officers should have first tried less lethal force on Harrison, such as pepper spray or a Taser.

“This is a perfect video for the Dallas Police Department to use in training as an example of what not to do,” said older brother Sean Harrison. “You don’t yell at them -- that only agitates them.”

But the officers who shot Harrison feared for their lives, said their attorney, Chris Livingston. He said killing someone with a screwdriver would be “pretty easy. It’ll only take one blow.”

“You can’t de-escalate someone coming at you with a weapon,” Livingston added.

Harrison’s family obtained the video from the department as evidence in a federal civil-rights lawsuit they filed in October.

That day, Harrison’s mother called 911 to ask the police for help bringing her son, who was bipolar and schizophrenic, to Parkland Hospital. He was in a crisis because he was off his medication, his family said.

In the 911 call, Harrison’s mother described her son’s mental disorders, and those details were relayed to the officers by dispatchers, Henley said. The video shows Harrison’s mother walking calmly out of the house in the 200 block of Glencairn Drive seconds prior to the shooting.

“He’s just off the chain,” she is heard telling the officers. “Bipolar schizo.”

The family’s lawsuit claims Harrison did not pose a threat, in part because the screwdriver he held was a small one used for computers. He had never been violent before, Sean Harrison said.

Police officials have previously said the body camera video backs up the officers’ accounts of self-defense, showing a fast-unfolding event in a tightly confined space. They were protecting themselves, police said.

Dallas police said Monday the department has completed its internal investigation into whether the officers broke any laws. The department did not make a ruling on that issue and instead forwarded the file to the Dallas County district attorney’s office, said police spokesman Lt. Jose Garcia.

Internal investigators are still reviewing the case to see if the officers violated any policies, Garcia said.

The two officers, John Rogers and Andrew Hutchins, are back on full duty and the case is awaiting review by a grand jury. Both officers had been on the force for more than five years at the time of the shooting.

Copyright 2015 The Dallas Morning News