The Town of Longview Texas is mourning the death of a 17-year-old woman, Kristiana Coignard, after police officers shot multiple times and killed Coignard inside the lobby of the police station.
The events were captured on video inside the station, but there’s a whole lot more to the story (I’m using the tweets, rather than the direct link to the video for those who’d rather not watch the footage).
This is the third such officer-involved shooting death in Longview this year alone. That should raise alarm bells, but so too should how this shooting incident developed. It doesn’t appear that anyone ever handcuffed Coignard. The initial responding officer managed to control Coignard at least twice - on the floor and on a chair, so he clearly could manage to handle her without using deadly force, but when two other officers showed up, suddenly it was necessary to use deadly force.
The Department is claiming that she brandished a butcher knife, but I didn’t make anything out given the angle from which the video was taken. It is possible that she did have a weapon, but if that’s the case, then why did the officer not handcuff and carry out a proper search of Coignard when the initial responding officer managed to get her seated?
This officer managed to have physical control of her, and the situation, and yet despite additional cops arriving in the lobby to assist, this same officer then shot and killed Coignard.
A Longview police spokesperson, Kristie Brian, told the Guardian there are currently no plans to make footage available to the public [the footage has since become available as seen by the YouTube video above]. She declined to confirm the type of weapon Coignard allegedly brandished but said the department expects to release more details about the shooting later this week. The Texas Ranger Division is investigating the incident.
Brian said Longview officers “are trained in all kinds of different situations”, including dealing with people with mental health problems, and that the county has a Crisis Intervention Team (CIT), which sees specially trained officers dispatched to urgent psychiatric situations. She said she did not know whether the three officers currently on leave had been CIT-trained.
Coignard is the third person - and the third young person - shot dead by Longview police in less than a year. No charges were filed by a grand jury against three officers who killed a 15-year-old robbery suspect during a shootout last March. A 23-year-old cook with a history of making threats died in August after a routine traffic stop went awry.
Three-and-a-half hours south, in Houston, the 2012 death of Brian Claunch had exemplified the potential for tragedy when police with limited training encounter a troubled individual in a pressurised situation. Though Houston has a widely praised CIT programme, two officers without that experience were called to a care home one night when Claunch, a schizophrenic, wheelchair-bound double amputee, started behaving erratically.
Police said that he grew violent and cornered an officer while waving a shiny object in their direction. Matthew Marin shot the 45-year-old in the head. The object proved to be a ballpoint pen. In June 2013, a grand jury declined to bring charges against the officer.
That year a police officer in Dallas was dismissed from his job, and indicted by a grand jury in 2014, after he shot a mentally ill man who was holding a knife but standing still several yards away. The encounter lasted less than 30 seconds from the officers’ arrival to the gunfire.
A 2013 joint report by the Treatment Advocacy Center and the National Sheriffs’ Association found that while no national data is officially collected on fatal police shootings of the mentally ill, “multiple informal studies and accounts support the conclusion that ‘at least half of the people shot and killed by police each year in this country have mental health problems’.”
And instead of doing all we can to make sure that they get proper treatment, those that are encountered by cops have a disturbing tendency to end up dead. Coignard had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and had twice attempted suicide previously, but had never been violent towards anyone but herself.
The police and mayor are already attempting to justify the shooting as a legitimate use of force. They’re claiming that she entered the station wielding a knife, which is how Longview Mayor Jay Dean put it.
The three officers have been placed on paid leave. According to the latest news, Officer Glenn Derr was first to respond, and when he approached her, she held up her hand that said “I have a gun” written on it. From there, Derr manages to subdue her on the ground, yet lets her back up. At this point, Derr claims that he saw her reaching for a butcher knife in her waistband. Officer Gene Duffie then arrives, followed by Officer Grace Bagley, and shortly thereafter Derr and other officers open fire when they see Coignard charging at Derr, killing Coignard.
The police chief, Don Dingler, claims that this is a justified shooting.
The Texas Rangers (Texas Department of Public Safety) is handling the investigation. But I wouldn’t put too much faith in seeing any indictments handed down. It will just be treated as another tragic shooting. Which is wrong, because there was no reason that deadly force should have been used here.
UPDATE at 1/29/15 1:00:43 pm by lawhawk
The NY Daily News claims that a taser was used in the incident, but to no effect.
“As Coignard charged Officer Derr with the knife in a threatening manner, Officer Duffie deployed his taser at Coignard with no effect,” police said in a statement. “Officer Derr then discharged his weapon three times. Officer Bagley fired her weapon twice.”
About 10 minutes after she came to the police department for help, the disturbed teen was dead on the lobby floor.
Even if you’re going to assume that she had a knife and was lunging, why was she not searched after being initially subdued by Derr. That was a critical mistake in procedure. And it directly led to her death.
Now it is also possible that this incident may have been a tragic suicide by cop, but the fact is that the officers had the opportunity to stop the situation from turning deadly, and they didn’t take it. But it isn’t clear that the Daily News report based on the police claims match up with the video.
At the 2:50 mark on the video, Derr got her on the ground and in a submissive position; at this point he could have handcuffed her and carried out a search. Instead, he gets up and stands there for a few moments until additional officers show up, and she gets back up. Moreover, it’s not clear whether any taser was actually used in the incident. All we see are firearms.