Phoenix police ID officer who shot and killed mentally ill woman

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By Tami Hoey By Tami Hoey
By Jennifer Thomas By Jennifer Thomas

PHOENIX -- The Phoenix Police Department has released the identity of the officer who shot and killed a mentally ill woman last week.

Police say that Sgt. Percy Dupra fired the shot that killed 50-year-old Michelle Cusseaux, after she allegedly threatened police officers and mental health workers.

Last Thursday, police responded to an apartment complex near 55th Avenue and Indian School Road in the Maryvale area at around 2:15 p.m. for an emergency mental health pickup order.

According to police, 50-year-old Michelle Cusseaux was threatening mental health workers, saying she would show up at the mental health facility where she was supposed to be receiving treatment and shoot the workers.

When police arrived at Cusseaux's apartment to pick her up they said she was agitated and swinging a hammer.

"When our officers go to serve mental health pickup orders, they're some of the most dangerous calls to even go on because those people often have mental challenges," said Phoenix police spokesman Sgt. Tommy Thompson. "And that's what we're dealing with at this time."

When officers, including a sergeant, tried to get Cusseaux to come out of the apartment, she opened the door and allegedly had a claw hammer raised above her head.

Police say Sgt. Dupra fired one shot, striking Cusseaux. Officers administered CPR, and the woman later died at a hospital.

Police said a weapons examination and information from witnesses confirmed the 48-year-old sergeant fired his weapon only once.

"All of a sudden, I heard them screaming, 'Drop the hammer, drop the hammer, drop the hammer,' " said Michael Lebay, a maintenance man who witnessed the incident. "This person lunged out at them with the hammer, swinging it crazy, and the officer unfortunately had to shoot."

Police said they are still investigating whether Cusseaux had a gun in the apartment.

"When she lunged out at them, she was trying to hit somebody in the head," Lebay said. "The way she was swinging that hammer, if she would have connected, one of the officers would have been seriously hurt. So in my opinion, they had no choice."

Neighbors said Cusseaux was known around the complex for having bouts with mental illness.

"It's sad because ... mental illness, we need to take care of it," neighbor Linda Garcia said.

Cusseaux's mother says the department needs to find better ways when handling mentally ill patients.

Frances Garrett says she called a mental health facility to try and get her inpatient treatment for her 50-year-old daughter Michelle Cusseaux. She says her daughter suffered from depression, bi-polar disorder and schizophrenia.

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," 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.

Sgt. Dupra, a 19-year veteran of the department, has been placed on administrative leave, which is standard procedure in officer-involved shootings.