Family Of New York Woman, Shereese Francis, Killed By Cops In 2012 During Mental Health Crisis Speaks Out For First Time
Speaking to the media for the first time in eight years, her sister said she was expecting the paramedics, who usually respond when the family would call for help, the day her sister was killed.
October 05, 2020 at 7:59 pm
Eight years after a New York woman died at the hands of police following an emergency call, her family, drawing inspiration from the nationwide social justice outcry of recent months, is now publicly discussing the incident for the first time.
“I know what those other families are going through right now. I know what George Floyd's family is going through, Eric Garner. I know the pain," grieving sister Shauna Francis told Inside Edition. "I said, ‘Oh my God, I suppressed this, and I kept silent for all these years.’ I said, ‘My silence is not going to make a difference. I need to speak up now.’"
The tragedy happened in 2012 after Shauna called authorities to assist her younger sister, Shereese Francis, who was supposed to take medication for her schizophrenia. Speaking to the media for the first time in eight years, Shauna said she was expecting the paramedics who usually respond when the family would call for help.
"When they came, to my surprise, it wasn't the paramedics who came before," the devastated sister told the outlet. "It was the police officers. Four officers came and they asked me where she was."
Shauna said she directed the officers to the basement, where her sister expressed shock when she saw them, saying "Who are you? What are you doing here?”
The older sister remembers her younger sibling trying to get away after police told her she has to go to the hospital.
"She started walking to go up the stairs. By the stairs, there is a bed," Shauna said. "She went towards the staircase, and I heard one of the officers say, ‘Don't let her go! Don't let her pass! Don't let her go up the stairs!’”
The incident escalated at that point, with the young woman allegedly ending up face down on a bed after police tackled her.
"The police officer was on top of her, in her back, but I was pacing back and forth, back and forth, because I trusted these police officers," Shauna said. "I thought they knew what they were doing, so I just kept saying, ‘Shereese, please cooperate. Cooperate with the police officers. They're just trying to help you to get back to the hospital.’”
The confrontation was followed by silence, causing more worry for the family.
"There was complete silence in the room. So then I looked and I said, 'Wait. What's going on?' She was laying there, just lifeless," Shauna said. "They placed her on the ground. They placed her on the ground, and they started making a call by radio, but they were talking in police code, which I can't understand. I didn't know what they were saying."
The older sibling said police then instructed the entire family to leave the basement while they perform chest compressions on 29-year-old Shereese.
“An hour and a half went by, and they're still down there with her. So it was night. All of a sudden, we were inside, we saw them rushing her on the stretcher, coming from the backyard,” Shauna said.
When they rushed to the hospital to see their loved one, the family was told that she had died. Her death was ruled as a homicide, identifying the cause as compression of trunk during agitated violent behavior —schizophrenia— while prone on bed and attempted restraint by police officers.
“A lot of what the police do is so-called EDP calls, at least in New York, that's what we call them," attorney Steve Vaccaro told Inside Edition Digital. "EDP means Emotionally Disturbed Person. I think it's an ugly and reductive term. Shereese was living with mental illness and without violence in her life.”
In this case, police responded to the call instead of an ambulance.
"The police respond to these calls, but it is well known that they don't have the training or expertise, and in many cases, the temperament to deal with an individual who's going through a mental health crisis,” Vaccaro said.
According to Inside Edition, the officers involved in the case are still working in law enforcement and it's not clear if they ever received any repercussions for the death of Shereese Francis. One of the officers faced a lawsuit in 2014 lawsuit for assaulting a man after a traffic stop. But the case was settled for $145,000. The same officer faced another lawsuit which settled for about $16,000.
The family has been pushing for the Shereese Francis Act, which would require a qualified psychiatrist to accompany the NYPD during mental health calls.
According to a study from the Treatment Advocacy Center, people with mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed by police, compared to other civilians.
“By dismantling the mental illness treatment system, we have turned mental health crises from a medical issue into a police matter,” said John Snook, executive director and a co-author of the study. “This is patently unfair, illogical and is proving harmful both to the individual in desperate need of care and the officer who is forced to respond.”
Advocates for social justice have been calling for defunding the police in recent months, hoping for the funding to benefit other social welfare initiatives such as mental health programs.
"Philosophically, using law enforcement authority to arrest someone as a means to seek mental healthcare is just simply wrong," Dave Mahoney, sheriff of Madison, Wisconsin, told Vice.
While she has been trying to overcome the trauma in the past eight years, Shauna has been getting encouragement from Shereese’s best friend, Sunshine Williams-Smith.
“You detached. You were going through depression," Williams-Smith said. "I would check in every once in a while with Miss Eileen, her mom, even her, and no one really wanted to talk about it.”
As time has progressed, Shereese's loved ones have not only opened up about their feelings, but they've also become increasingly more outraged by seeing more Black lives perish at the hands of law enforcement.
“We don't want any more knees in the back. We're sick of it," Williams-Smith said. "We're sick of the knees in the back. There's a death. The death has affected both of us, and at this point, this bill needs to be passed to not only protect mentally ill, but to protect Black and Brown people period, and to stop police officers from using violence by law enforcement. ”