ACLU asks US Department of Justice to investigate SDPD use of force on mentally ill suspects

SAN DIEGO (KUSI) – The American Civil Liberties Union is asking for a federal investigation of the San Diego Police Department.

The ACLU submitted a request to the U.S. Department of Justice, hoping it will look into a number of police shootings of the mentally ill.

Lawyers from the group claim the SDPD officers are not equipped to deal with people who are affected by mental illness and that the use of excessive force on mentally ill isn’t an effective method.

Such incidents "cannot be ignored, particularly because they continue in spite of the Department of Justice’s recent report documenting longstanding leadership and accountability failures within the San Diego Police Department,” said David Loy, legal director of the San Diego ACLU.

"The fact that these violent encounters span a period of years demonstrates either an inability or unwillingness on the part of the SDPD to learn from experience and take measures to avoid similar incidents in the future,” he said.

San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman released the following statement regarding the concerns of the ACLU.

"No police officer comes to work wanting to be involved in a shooting. Our training strategy focuses on de-escalating situations and deploying the appropriate resources to safely resolve an unstable situation. San Diego Police Officers responded to over 18,000 mental health calls for service last year alone. This is a 100 percent increase in the last seven years. Public safety is a shared responsibility. The rising mental health crisis facing society today demands the attention of more than just those families who are dealing with mental illness of a loved one. We welcome the opportunity to work together to assist those who are suffering from mental illness." 

The ACLU-led action comes three months after District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis declined to press charges against San Diego police Officer Neal Browder, who shot and killed a psychologically disturbed Afghanistan native in a dark alley behind a Midway-area sex shop last spring.

Fridoon Nehad, 42, reportedly had been threatening people in the area and allegedly advanced on Browder in a menacing manner. The officer, who had been informed that Nehad had a knife, opened fire as the suspect walked toward him. As it turned out, Nehad was holding a pen.

Other cases cited by the signatories of the letter include the officer- involved shootings of:

  • Philip McMahon, 27, who allegedly charged police in the nude and tried to take away an officer’s gun after breaking a neighbor’s window in Mira Mesa on Feb. 16, 2015
  • Ja Ma Lo Day, 21, a Burmese refugee who reportedly threatened to kill family members at their City Heights home and then attacked a police dog with a machete on July 13, 2014
  • Nathan Manning, 31, who allegedly attacked a detective who was trying to break up a fight between Manning and his roommate at a Normal Heights intersection on May 20, 2010
  • Bradford Sarten, 55, who allegedly advanced on officers with a kitchen knife after assaulting his 85-year-old mother at their North Park home on April 26, 2010.

All the suspects except McMahon died of their gunshot wounds.

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