BOSTON (AP) — The mother of a mentally ill black man fatally shot by Boston police filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday accusing the city of failing to properly train officers on how to deal with mentally ill people.
Terrence Coleman was killed in 2016 after his mother called 911 for an ambulance to take him to the hospital. Police and prosecutors say he attacked emergency medical technicians with a large knife, but his mother denies her son was armed or posed any danger.
Boston police and EMS didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.
The lawsuit says Hope Coleman became concerned about her 31-year-old son, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia, because he refused to come inside from the apartment building’s front stoop.
Hope Coleman said she asked the 911 operator not to send police because she worried that would agitate her son, but the operator said it was the policy to send officers with EMTs.
The lawsuit says Terrence Coleman, who had gone inside the apartment by the time EMTs arrived, became upset when he saw blue flashing lights and told them he didn’t want to go to the hospital, but the EMTs insisted he come with them and tried to grab him. The lawsuit says the officers burst through the door when they heard a scuffle, tackled the man and shot him.
Suffolk District Attorney Daniel Conley said in August that Officer Garrett Boyle’s use of deadly force was justified because the lives of officers and emergency medical technicians were in danger. Conley said Terrence Coleman had pulled a 5-inch knife from a bag and attacked the EMTs who were trying to help him and then began slashing at the officers who came to their assistance.
The lawsuit says a knife was recovered from inside the apartment while the officers and EMTs said Terrence Coleman had attacked them in the foyer outside the apartment.
The lawsuit says the city has flawed 911 protocols for responding to mentally ill people who need assistance. It also says the city does not adequately train officers on how to deal with people with mental illnesses and that the training programs that do exist “erroneously suggest that all persons who suffer from mental health disabilities are violent and dangerous.”
“We hope that Terrence’s tragic death in 2016 will cause police departments in Boston and around the country to change how they engage with black people and those with mental health disabilities,” said Sophia Hall, an attorney with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, which filed the lawsuit along with attorneys with Fick & Marx LLP.