ON THE day when some officers marched to bring awareness to mental health, police officers in another division shot and killed a mentally ill man after he attacked them with a cutlass.
According to police, Kevin Lewis, 29, was shot dead by officers of the Port of Spain Division who responded to numerous calls about Lewis threatening residents of St Ann's Road, St Ann's with a cutlass. The shooting took place at 10.30 am, police said.
While the shooting was taking place, officers in North Eastern Division were marching through the streets of San Juan in the hopes of educating the public on the signs and symptoms of mental illness and how to treat people suffering with it.
Police said Lewis attacked them while they were attempting to get him to the nearby St Ann's Psychiatric Hospital. Lewis recently began exhibiting signs of mental illness.
From the scene of the shooting, the mental hospital can be seen. Relatives of Lewis were on the scene but did not speak to the media when approached. Lewis' death has re-awakened old wounds for the police service who have been, without success, virtually begging for non-lethal weapons to deal with mentally ill citizens.
In May, acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams told reporters that part of the challenge in securing non-lethal weapons was financial but he hoped they would be in police hands by the end of this year.
Last year, president of the Police Social and Welfare Association Insp Michael Seales called on Williams to provide them with non-lethal means to subdue unarmed suspects and called for better training in handling mentally ill patients. That call came following the shooting deaths of two mentally ill men.
Seales said then that police recruits are taught a component of ‘behavioural science’, but he said this does not translate to responding to calls where mentally ill people are involved. “We have conducted our own investigations into the matter and it is clear police are not able to treat with the mentally ill,” he said.
It is clear to see when every time a police officer has to intervene in one of these cases, the mentally ill patient ends up being wounded – sometimes fatally. We are not trained to deal with mental patients. Non-lethal equipment like tasers and pepper spray will reduce the risk of fatalities," Seales said.
Relatives at the scene were questioning the killing of Lewis asking officers to show them the cutlass. Around 2 pm when undertakers were removing Lewis' body, a bloody and rusted cutlass was placed in an evidence bag by a crime scene investigators. Police later confirmed that the blood came from Lewis, after he was shot and bled on the ground.