Published October 18, 2013
Surveillance video showing a Dallas police officer shooting a mentally ill man standing still about 20 feet away contradicts the assertion of an officer that the man threatened his safety by lunging at him with a knife.
Bobby Gerald Bennett remains hospitalized after being shot in the stomach Monday. The officer who shot him, Cardan Spencer, is on indefinite administrative leave pending a criminal investigation after a neighbor released surveillance video that captured the incident.
Bennett's mother, Joyce Jackson, said in an interview Friday that her 52-year-old son has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and that he was off his medication at the time of the shooting. Jackson said she was arguing Bennett when she called the police. She was told that officers who have been trained in dealing with the mentally ill would arrive to assist her.
The officers arrived outside her southeast Dallas home around noon to find Bennett sitting on a chair in the street holding a knife. At this point, accounts of the incident differ.
Spencer wrote in a police report that Bennett refused to drop the knife, but moved toward him and another officer "in a threatening manner." Spencer says that's when he fired at Bennett four times from about 20 feet away, wounding him. Bennett was then charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon on a public servant.
But the video tells a different story. Although the police report says Bennett "lunged" at the officers with a knife, in the video he stands up from the chair but then doesn't appear to move at all until the gun is fired and he crumples to the ground.
The surveillance video doesn't include audio, and Spencer wrote in his report that Bennett yelled at them, "You all are gonna need more officers than this!" But it doesn't show that the incident "escalated, which led an officer to fire his weapon upon the individual," as police spokesman Warren Mitchell said in a statement a few hours after the shooting.
Police Chief David Brown said in a statement Thursday night that Spencer has been placed on indefinite administrative leave pending a "thorough criminal investigation."
Jackson said she and her son had been arguing about whether he could take an ink drawing of a rose he had done for his late grandmother, she said. The drawing is framed on the wall of her home.
The argument soon escalated to the point where Jackson felt she needed police assistance.
"I'm devastated that I felt the need to call 911," Jackson said.
Jackson said her son struggles with mental illness and often leaves her home to sleep on the streets, but said he is an avid artist and reader and isn't violent. According to state criminal records, he was convicted of larceny, vehicle theft and forgery in the 1980s but has no recent arrests.
"I was expecting help from someone that's a lot more knowledgeable than me," she said. Mitchell, the police spokesman, declined to say Friday whether the two officers sent to Jackson's home had any specific mental health training.
Jackson did not see the shooting. She was inside her home when she heard four gunshots. She said it was a "miracle" that her neighbor's camera recorded the incident. Otherwise, "I wouldn't have had a leg to stand on," she said.
Maurice Bunch installed the surveillance camera two years ago after a trailer was stolen from his driveway.