December 11, 2023

Twice in a two-month span, a fragile, self-destructive Thompson “Tommy” Nguyen encountered San Jose cops educated to cope with individuals in a psychological well being disaster. The primary time, Nguyen’s household anxious the officers would possibly harm Nguyen, and despatched them away.

The second time, police killed him.

Tensions ran excessive on a night in January 2018, as police responded to pressing calls of an armed man menacing a San Jose energy plant. Nguyen’s habits – failing to reply to instructions, beseeching cops to “shoot me, kill me” – alerted the officers to his brittle situation, however they may not calm him and by no means tried non-lethal pressure throughout the eight-minute encounter.

As a substitute, as Nguyen strode towards them, an ax and metallic pipe in his arms, two officers fired their weapons a complete of 5 instances. Considered one of them later instructed investigators he believed Nguyen was bent on “suicide by cop.” In that case, he succeeded.

“I knew that if I’m not there and the cops are concerned, he’s going to die,” stated Nguyen’s brother, Tony Chi, in a latest interview. “And that’s what occurred.”

Lisa Chi, together with her son Tony Chi and husband Tung Nguyen, remembers her late son Thompson “Tommy” Nguyen. The household questions why police determined to make use of deadly pressure towards Thompson Nguyen, who was struggling a psychiatric disaster. 

Nguyen’s loss of life exemplifies a tragic, troubling actuality for regulation enforcement in San Jose: Large proportions of the individuals officers beat, tase, shoot and kill are mentally in poor health or intoxicated from medicine or alcohol. In disaster, unable to manage themselves, these people typically can’t kind the malevolent intent we affiliate with harmful criminals.

Realizing the problem, the San Jose Police Division has dedicated appreciable effort to instructing its officers to deal with these conditions, turning into a nationwide chief when it required all of its officers to bear specialised disaster intervention coaching starting in 2017.

But within the warmth of the second, lots of San Jose’s officers can nonetheless discover no different option to resolve such interactions however with violence.

A primary-of-its-kind investigative evaluation of San Jose police information between 2014 and 2021 discovered that:

  • An awesome majority of these critically injured by police in San Jose are mentally impaired. Of the 108 people on whom San Jose officers used batons, Tasers or weapons to trigger what’s legally referred to as “nice bodily harm,” practically three-quarters had been believed to be mentally in poor health or intoxicated.
  • The proportion of the mentally impaired amongst these killed by police is even larger. Eighty % – 20 of 25 – of the victims of deadly incidents had been categorized as mentally in poor health or intoxicated.
  • In depth officer training has did not curb the traits. Actually, since San Jose started its coaching effort, the share of great pressure incidents that concerned the mentally impaired has barely elevated. That is true regardless that police now acknowledge indicators of psychological sickness or intoxication the overwhelming majority of the time.
  • A evaluation of instances involving the mentally impaired raises questions on why pressure was the top lead to lots of them. In a couple of quarter of the confrontations, officers initiated contact with the topics on their very own, typically over comparatively minor infractions. Different instances, police noticed or had been known as to assist somebody appearing erratically, and the incident spiraled uncontrolled. In nicely underneath half was the individual armed.

Charts show overwhelming majority of those seriously injured and killed by San Jose police are mentally impaired

To succeed in these conclusions, journalists for the Bay Space Information Group and the California Reporting Mission, working with college students from Stanford College and UC Berkeley, reviewed 1000’s of pages of police information launched underneath California transparency legal guidelines and the phrases of a 2020 settlement of the information group’s lawsuit towards the town of San Jose.

The incidents examined concerned dozens of San Jose officers, suggesting the strategy to utilizing pressure is widespread observe inside the division, slightly than the work of poorly educated or rogue officers.

The numbers convey a bunch of issues past the scope of regulation enforcement – from the prevalence of substance abuse to the woeful lack of remedy choices for the mentally in poor health and the addicted.

However in addition they increase two questions that San Jose police have tried – and thus far failed – to resolve: Why, so typically, do police find yourself confronting people who so clearly want one thing aside from a regulation enforcement response? And why can’t they cease hurting them?

“The plain reply is that the coaching doesn’t work,” stated Tom Nolan, a retired Boston police lieutenant who’s now a felony justice professor. “Regulation enforcement has at all times been ill-equipped in coping with individuals in disaster. We have now to vary the mindset that police are all issues to all individuals, and reimagine their position, and what we anticipate from the police.”

The problem is huge. In line with the division’s information, the variety of “5150” calls police shorthand for instances involving psychological well being crises rose from 2,531 in 2014 to three,537 in 2021, a 40% enhance. A lot of these calls are resolved and not using a police response; when police do reply, a big proportion are dealt with with out confrontation.

Nonetheless, as police themselves emphasize, interactions with troubled topics are unfailingly difficult, demanding sensitivity and expertise most of us don’t naturally possess.

“Nothing is extra unpredictable than human habits, and then you definately add in psychological sickness or extreme substance abuse, and also you’ve made that troublesome equation that rather more troublesome and unpredictable,” stated San Jose Police Assistant Chief Paul Joseph, whom the division designated as its spokesperson to reply to this information group’s investigation. “Any approach or tactic we ever use shouldn’t be a assure of any specific consequence. The opposite individual within the state of affairs has one thing to do with the result, in all probability excess of we do.”

Extra coaching, however the issues proceed

Starting in 2017, the San Jose Police Division got down to higher deal with these encounters, turning into the primary big-city division in the US to mandate disaster intervention coaching for all its officers – a transfer propelled partly by the case of a younger, mentally in poor health lady named Diana Showman.

On August 14, 2014, Showman known as 911 throughout a psychiatric breakdown and instructed dispatchers she was going to shoot her household with an “Uzi.” The episode ended with the 19-year-old, who was holding a cordless drill spray-painted black, shot lifeless by police outdoors her household’s Blossom Hill Street dwelling.

On the ninth anniversary of her death, Jim Showman holds a portrait of his daughter Diana at his home in San Jose, Calif., Friday, Aug. 18, 2023. The picture of Diana was taken on her 19th birthday, one day before she was shot and killed by San Jose police while experiencing a psychiatric breakdown. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)
Jim Showman grew to become a robust advocate for police psychological well being coaching after his daughter Diana was shot lifeless by police in 2014 as she brandished a drill painted black. He’s exhibiting an image taken on her nineteenth birthday, sooner or later earlier than her loss of life.(Karl Mondon/Bay Space Information Group) 

Her father, Jim Showman, stays haunted by how officers closest to Diana, who would have had the clearest view of her makeshift “weapon,” held their hearth. It was an officer farther away who delivered the deadly bullets, based on a evaluation of police reviews — although these reviews give no indication of whether or not the officers positioned nearer believed Diana posed a menace. Physique cameras weren’t in use on the time.

“In the event that they thought that was an actual Uzi, she would have been peppered with bullets, and so they didn’t hearth,” Showman stated in a latest interview.

Within the aftermath, Showman advocated for the Disaster Intervention Group coaching. Actually, such coaching was a situation of his household’s authorized settlement with the town, though Showman says he’s been disenchanted with the outcomes.

“I assumed it will give them extra of a scientific training in coping with psychological well being and folks in disaster, that they might again off and acknowledge and acknowledge that this isn’t a traditional occasion, that it is a one who is having some sort of a difficulty,” Showman stated. “It didn’t appear to be that occurred.”

CIT coaching teaches officers to acknowledge indicators of psychological sickness and drug or alcohol intoxication — and San Jose police have grow to be adept at doing that. Previous to 2017, information present, police had been instructed or had been capable of establish whether or not somebody was mentally impaired in 58% of pressure instances involving individuals in disaster; since then, the proportion is 77%.

Police obtain a minimal of 40 hours of coaching, and extra ongoing instruction, to keep away from violent confrontation by utilizing de-escalation practices, which SJPD coverage describes as staying calm within the midst of battle, deflecting verbal abuse, and providing empathy. Coaching supplies instruct officers to “acknowledge that an arrest is probably not the one goal” and emphasize that they need to not rush a confrontation to a conclusion, listening 80% of the time to “perceive not reply.”

Joseph insists the coaching has been efficient, particularly within the face of the substantial enhance in 5150 calls. He stated the division’s personal evaluation signifies that situations the place officers used pressure in responding to these calls dropped by half from 52 in 2015 – the primary yr SJPD tracked this particular information level – to 26 in 2021. That evaluation — carried out following inquiries from this information group — was the primary such research San Jose police had achieved of their very own response patterns to instances involving individuals in disaster.

San Jose Police Assistant Chief Paul Joseph contends that the division’s mandated crisis-intervention coaching is working to restrict violent encounters, within the face of a considerable enhance in psychological well being calls in recent times. (Karl Mondon/Bay Space Information Group) 

“That completely exhibits we have now been utilizing pressure in much less instances,” Joseph stated, including that “the outcomes of those conditions should not solely inside our management. The truth that pressure is utilized in a state of affairs doesn’t point out a failure to correctly de-escalate.”

Nevertheless, the figures Joseph cites are restricted to situations through which police had been known as particularly to reply to an individual struggling a psychological disaster – instances, in different phrases, the place police knew what they had been entering into. They don’t embrace conditions the place police themselves initiated contact with an individual whom they presumed to be mentally in poor health or intoxicated, or the place the individual’s psychological state was not identified till after police arrived on the scene.

In contrast, the evaluation carried out by the Bay Space Information Group and the California Reporting Mission considers the complete vary of confrontations between police and the mentally in poor health. However it’s restricted to these leading to vital harm or loss of life – the one instances whose launch is required by regulation. Police are allowed however not required to launch instances through which they deem their use of pressure to have prompted minor or no accidents, and San Jose normally doesn’t launch them.

Trying on the publicly launched serious-injury instances, about 67% of San Jose’s pressure incidents concerned the mentally in poor health or intoxicated previous to 2017, rising to about 77% since then. Whereas the totals differ yr to yr, there isn’t any indication the violent confrontations are trending downward, regardless of the coaching efforts.

As with most giant police departments in California, the individuals harm or killed by police in San Jose are disproportionately Latino and Black, in comparison with the town’s general inhabitants. Of the 108 individuals critically injured by police between 2014 and 2021, 59 had been recognized as Hispanic, 27 had been White, 10 had been Black, and 9 had been Asian. Race was not recognized in three of the instances.

General, of these 108 people, mentally in poor health and intoxicated individuals accounted for 72% of these towards whom an officer used a gun. They accounted for 71% of bodily strikes utilizing arms, elbows or ft, 71% of baton strikes, 91% of using beanbag projectiles, and 95% of Taser deployments.

The case recordsdata present that most of the incidents that finish in extreme harm begin with habits so innocuous it begs the query of why there was a confrontation in any respect. Three violent incidents got here after individuals had been stopped for not having a bicycle headlight. Two started with suspected public intoxication. One man was injured by two cops after shining a flashlight of their course.

A complete of 19 pressure instances involving the mentally in poor health or intoxicated started with officers confronting topics by their very own selection, slightly than investigating against the law or responding to a name for assist. Within the majority of instances involving the mentally in poor health or intoxicated – 59% – the individuals injured by police weren’t armed.

But within the instances reviewed, no officer has been disciplined for utilizing pressure towards somebody who was mentally impaired.

Seth Stoughton, a College of South Carolina regulation professor who was an professional prosecution witness within the seminal trial over the 2020 loss of life of George Floyd by the hands of Minneapolis cops, known as the traits regarding.

Usually, Stoughton stated, “people with psychological sickness should not harmful. They don’t commit crimes in a manner that’s notably worrisome. … It’s not against the law to behave erratically.”

‘This man’s about to get batoned’

The 2019 beating of Arthur Lee Turner tells a vital story behind the numbers: For mentally impaired individuals, there may be typically solely a skinny line between a routine interplay with the police – and violence.

Turner’s bother started when two San Jose officers conducting a group foot patrol came across a gaggle of unhoused individuals at an encampment within the metropolis’s Guadalupe River Park and Gardens, and determined to clear the location. (No less than a dozen of SJPD’s pressure incidents during the last decade contain unhoused individuals, though these numbers are probably undercounted as a result of police should not often documenting housing standing.)

Physique digicam video of the November 2019 encounter exhibits officers Alex Cristancho and Steven Aponte asserting to the group that they had been “detained,” and ordering them to remain the place they had been. When Turner began to stroll away, the officers nearly instantly determined to make use of pressure to subdue him — although Turner was unarmed and didn’t seem to threaten the officers all through the incident.

Video: “Watch this guys.”

SETTING THE SCENE: Two San Jose cops encounter Arthur Lee Turner, a resident of a homeless encampment who proclaims himself to be God and won’t comply with their instructions.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: One of many officers broadcasts to the opposite encampment residents, “Watch this guys, this man’s about to get batoned.” Though Turner doesn’t seem to threaten them, in addition they tase and pepper-spray him.

THE OUTCOME: Turner suffers a damaged hand and a number of lacerations to his face. He’s arrested for resisting arrest, assaulting an officer, and offering a false identification.

“Watch this guys, this man’s about to get batoned,” one officer might be heard telling the opposite individuals who had been detained. Inside minutes, the officers had shot Turner with a taser, hit him with their batons and used pepper spray.

Falling to the bottom, Turner proclaimed himself to be “God,” warning officers to not “mess with God.” As officers climbed on high of him to handcuff him, Turner struggled, asking the officers to “please take your knee off me so I can breathe.”

Medical personnel had been known as, and Turner was handled for 2 damaged fingers and lacerations to his face and neck and brought to jail. An inside evaluation raised no questions in regards to the officers’ use of pressure.

Officer Steven Aponte’s police report affords his model of how and why the confrontation turned violent. (San Jose Police) 


However Nolan, who reviewed video of Turner’s arrest, stated it was the officers who laid the groundwork for what unfolded.

“I didn’t see (Turner) commit any crimes aside from defending himself after being crushed with a weapon,” he stated. “What we noticed on this video is the flawed strategy.’’

Walter Katz, who served as San Jose’s unbiased police auditor on the time the division rolled out its obligatory disaster intervention coaching, agreed, calling using pressure within the Turner case “avoidable from the very starting.”

“You roll into the scene and inform everybody, ‘You’re all detained,’ what are you anticipating goes to occur? You simply confirmed up as a disruptor,” Katz stated. “If their objective is to clear the encampment, I do not know what their plan was.”

Joseph declined to remark particularly on the Turner case, however stated the division empowers officers to stroll away from calls that don’t contain a critical crime.

“There may be at all times going to be a judgment made on, is it price probably turning into concerned in a critical violent encounter to be able to make an arrest?” he stated. “We do nonetheless have a job to do, we do nonetheless have an obligation to guard public security and implement the regulation.”

‘I simply wish to go away’

The Could 26, 2021, violent arrest of William Wallace raises comparable questions on why police selected to confront somebody they instantly concluded was mentally impaired. As officer Barron Kim described it, Wallace’s infraction was minor: He had jaywalked along with his bicycle in an empty Sunol Road close to the intersection with West San Carlos Road.

Kim ordered Wallace to cease, however Wallace walked away erratically as a substitute. In line with police reviews and body-worn digicam footage, Kim then grabbed Wallace, who responded by uttering threats, pushing his bike on the officer, and at one level reportedly throwing a punch. Kim chased Wallace and subdued him with a sequence of hand and baton strikes, as Wallace moaned “I simply wish to go away.” Wallace, who was discovered to have “glass narcotics pipes” in his pocket, suffered a damaged nostril within the encounter.

Video: “You’re not free to go away.”

SETTING THE SCENE: Officer Barron Kim confronted William Wallace after seeing him jaywalk along with his bike throughout an empty road.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: Wallace resists Kim’s order to cease, however seems to pose no menace till Kim accosts him. Ought to Kim have merely let him go?

THE OUTCOME: After Wallace filed a grievance, San Jose’s Impartial Police Auditor raised questions on why Kim felt it crucial to have interaction after which beat Wallace. The division exonerated Kim.

When Wallace later complained to the division in regards to the beating, San Jose’s unbiased police auditor – upon reviewing the information – raised pointed questions on why Kim confronted Wallace in any respect, and why he determined to make use of pressure. The division’s Inner Affairs unit reviewed the incident and interviewed Kim, however finally exonerated him.

In a written assertion to this information group, the police division emphasised the bigger menace Wallace posed, noting that he had a violent felony historical past and was suspected of different crimes together with identification theft — “components which might be prone to lead to a police contact even when the officer had not encounter him.”

On this electronic mail to SJPD, San Jose’s Impartial Police Auditor revealed her considerations about Kim’s conduct within the Wallace incident. (San Jose Police) 


However nowhere within the officer’s report is it said that he knew about Wallace’s felony historical past earlier than or throughout the roadway cease.

Was Wallace’s preliminary habits trigger for confrontation? Did Kim – who initially was alone, with out backup – have a more sensible choice as soon as Wallace resisted his order to halt?

Sandra Hernandez, director of the Santa Clara County Behavioral Well being Division, stated generally police should think about the potential knowledge of strolling away.

“It’s counterintuitive to what we used to assume, the place if somebody is doing one thing flawed, we arrest them,” she stated. “However we have now to ask: Are they hurting any individual? What’s the objective right here?”

A more sensible choice? 

To make sure, there are occasions when San Jose police appear to make use of their disaster coaching appropriately, avoiding violence.

In response to a request from this information group, the division allowed reporters to evaluation two instances through which officers resolved high-risk encounters with out pressure: A 2017 case involving a person trying to steal energy instruments and machetes from a House Depot; and a 2018 case through which police had been known as to a report of a “mentally disturbed” individual strolling into visitors. The division stipulated that nobody concerned in these two instances be recognized.

In each instances, officers had been instructed beforehand that they had been encountering somebody in disaster, and had been capable of put together. The House Depot incident specifically exhibits the advantages of reliable data: The report got here from an officer working after hours as a safety guard within the retailer.

Understanding the suspect would possibly act unpredictably, police evacuated the shop and deployed fastidiously at its entrances. The suspect tried to flee by a number of completely different doorways, solely to be met by officers, prompting him to run again inside.

Finally, the person dropped his backpack, took off his shirt, and bought “in a fighter stance,” based on police information. Quickly, the person was dealing with six officers and raised his arms huge, yelling, “If you happen to’re going to shoot me, shoot me.”

Some officers readied their Tasers and one other drew his baton. However an officer who took on the position of disaster negotiator continued his efforts to calm the person, promising to name an ambulance to take care of him and urging him to indicate his arms, which the suspect had stored behind his again.

Lastly, out of the blue, the stress broke. The person complied, and was arrested with out resistance.

Much less deadly pressure 

Nowhere is the scrutiny of police habits better than when confrontation results in loss of life. Over the previous decade, San Jose police – like lots of their counterparts across the nation – have engaged in concerted efforts to keep away from using deadly pressure, coaching officers relentlessly and supplying many extra nonlethal weapons, from foam bullets to beanbag launchers to tasers.

Broadly, the information group’s evaluation exhibits, these efforts appear to have lowered the tendency for police to resort to gunfire. There was a gentle decline in use of deadly pressure towards all topics since 2018, from 43% of serious-injury instances that yr, to 33% in 2019, 31% in 2020 and 20% in 2021.

However that lower has are available roughly equal proportion with those that are mentally impaired and those that should not. Actually, the proportion of the mentally in poor health and intoxicated amongst these killed by San Jose police stays stubbornly – even shockingly – excessive: 20 of 25 from 2014 to 2021, 12 of 14 starting in 2017.

Stoughton stated it may be troublesome to attract vital conclusions from a comparatively small variety of instances. However he was struck by the 80% proportion of police deaths that concerned mentally in poor health or intoxicated individuals.

“That’s a excessive quantity. Once we look nationally at mentally in poor health people killed by police, it’s someplace between about 25% to 40%,” he stated.

The odds Stoughton cites don’t embrace topics intoxicated with alcohol or medicine. For comparability, in San Jose, 52% of these killed in encounters with police had been regarded as mentally in poor health, based on the information organizations’ evaluation.

Suicidal and grievously wounded by his personal hand, Anthony Nunez died on the Fourth of July in 2016 when officers known as to reply to the disaster opened hearth as a result of Nunez “twirled” the revolver with which he had shot himself. A DA’s evaluation cleared the officers, however a federal jury agreed with Nunez’s household that he posed no menace and awarded $2.6 million.

Three years later, Francis Calonge perished on Halloween day from a single gunshot wound as he walked away from officers with a visual weapon that turned out to be a BB pistol in his waistband. Police stated they anxious he was heading towards Independence Excessive College, which was a number of blocks away. Later investigation established Calonge had a historical past of psychological sickness and was excessive on methamphetamine on the time of the incident.

In a few of the fatality instances, it’s simple sufficient to see – within the warmth of the second – why police resorted to deadly pressure. However in others, the tragedies go away behind survivors who take a look at the sequence of decisions main as much as deadly confrontations and marvel, as Thompson Nguyen’s household does, whether or not a special plan of action would have prevented their deaths.

‘We don’t anticipate a loss of life sentence’

Tony Chi talks about his late brother, Thompson "Tommy" Nguyen, Saturday, March 25, 2023, at the familyÕs home in San Jose. Tommy Nguyen was shot by San Jose police in 2018 during an encounter at a South Bay power plant in which he carried an ax while suffering a psychiatric crisis. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)
Tony Chi had feared that any encounter between his brother Thompson Nguyen and San Jose Police would finish with Nguyen’s loss of life. (Karl Mondon/Bay Space Information Group) 

5 years after Nguyen’s lethal encounter with police, Tony Chi nonetheless has clear recollections of how he and his household tried to get assist for his youthful brother as he started to descend right into a spiral of delusions.

A quick hospitalization within the emergency psychiatric unit didn’t assist, and Nguyen resisted makes an attempt at group and particular person remedy. When his determined household known as 911 in November of 2017 after a frantic Nguyen locked himself in his room, responding officers stated all they may do was break into the room and subdue him, Chi recollects. Chi imagined the break-in going terribly flawed, and despatched the officers away.

Simply two months later, on Jan. 9, 2018, Nguyen’s psychotic break led him to Metcalf Power Middle in South San Jose, the place he started strolling the grounds whereas holding an ax and metallic pipe. Anxious workers on the plant known as the police and evacuated as 4 officers responded.

Bodycam video signifies Nguyen by no means raised his arms or overtly menaced police with the weapons he held, however he repeatedly did not heed their instructions to drop his weapons and wouldn’t halt his advance towards them.

Video: “Shoot me!”

SETTING THE SCENE:  San Jose police responded to a report of an armed man breaking into an influence plant, and encountered Thompson Nguyen carrying a metallic pipe and an ax.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR:  As Nguyen approaches police, exclaiming “shoot me,” one officer calls to tase him however the others hearth their weapons as a substitute.

THE OUTCOME:  A district lawyer’s evaluation clears the officers, saying Nguyen “had determined he was going to die that day.”

Though a district lawyer’s evaluation cleared the officers of any misconduct, questions stay why they didn’t try nonlethal pressure to corral him – notably since at one level early within the sequence, officers unsuccessfully sought to have a 40 mm non-lethal launcher delivered to the scene.

The video exhibits what seems to be a deadly miscommunication within the ultimate moments of the confrontation, as one officer, Timothy Faye, yells “Tase him!” instantly earlier than one other officer shoots Nguyen as a substitute.