Family, friends meet with mayor about mentally ill woman shot and killed by police

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By Tami Hoey By Tami Hoey

PHOENIX -- Family and friends of a mentally ill woman are demanding changes after she was shot and killed by Phoenix police.

Last week, police were called to an apartment in the Maryvale area to bring 50-year-old Michelle Cusseaux to a mental health facility.

Cusseaux's family says she has no violent history, but mental health workers told police they were threatened, and officers say they arrived to find Cusseaux swinging a hammer.

A 19-year-veteran officer felt threatened, and fired a single, deadly shot.

Police officers do go through training for situations like this, but Michelle Cusseaux’s mother said she hopes more emphasis can be placed on training.

On Monday, dozens gathered at Phoenix City Hall to support Garrett. Many in the crowd were holding signs asking for justice for Michelle.

"I'm asking for the community's support," Michelle's mom Frances Garrett said at the rally. "I need the community's support in making this possible. I would hate for this to happen to another mother."

Activists and Cusseaux’s mother also met with Mayor Greg Stanton to talk about those concerns.

"How could this happen? I'm in shock,” said Kevin Kobey.

"This didn't have to happen, if they would have had the proper training for police officers,” said Steve Ishan, who attended the rally.

That was the sentiment during the rally for Cusseaux.

"How can an officer say they felt threatened and shoot her? They knew she was that way. They knew that she was in a bad way, and that scares me,” said Keven Kobey, who was at the rally.

Cusseaux's mother said she thinks police should have handled things differently. “Not to come with guns drawn,” said Garrett.

Now she wants an independent agency to investigate the shooting."We all want that, to rally for changes and to see that her rights were protected,” said Garrett.

Police said all of their officers have received required training on how to deal with the mentally ill, and every three years they watch a video series that includes mental health training.

There's also an advanced certification that police can voluntarily obtain. Phoenix police said about 20 percent of their patrol officers have that certification.

But Cusseaux's mother said she wants more emphasis placed on how to deal with the mentally ill.

"We're tired of this. We have to put money into the behavioral system in Arizona or we could put it into paying for settlements and all kinds of other stuff,” said Ishan.

Police said there is an internal and criminal investigation into the case.

The mayor's office said they will get Cusseaux's family answers as soon as they can on whether there will be an independent investigation from a different agency.