Valley police department implements special response training

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By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver

PHOENIX - Demonstrators upset with Phoenix police for shooting and killing a mentally ill woman dragged a casket bearing her body to the doors of City Hall.

Michelle Cusseaux, 50, was shot and killed one week ago after her mother asked for a mental check at the apartment and Cusseaux allegedly threatened responding police officers with a hammer.

Her mother and her supporters are calling for an independent investigation to be launched by Monday or they say they'll take their concerns to the United States Justice Department. The county attorney's office tells 3TV its investigation will be thorough and accurate.

In response to the shooting, Phoenix Police Chief Daniel Garcia has ordered a review of the department's mental-health pickup procedures. 3TV has learned this is something other departments in the Valley are looking into.

The incident brought back chilling memories for Chandler mother Kimberly Olson, whose teenage son Andrew has been battling mental illness his entire life. She recalled a rather violent incident with police when he was armed with a hammer.

"One of the police officers drew his gun, and one of them grabbed the Taser out and told him that if he moved or wouldn't put it down that they would shoot," she said.

Olson's son eventually dropped the hammer and it ended peacefully, but Chandler Police Det. Seth Tyler says many times responding officers don't have time on their side.

"When that threat is being presented to the officer, seconds, in many cases it's a split second, it's not even seconds, it happens so fast," he said.

It's a life and death decision Nancy Thiry hopes to help officers with. The wife of a Chandler officer and mother of a Down syndrome boy says she recognized there was a need for educating law enforcement officers on how to interact with special needs and mental illness cases.

"There's no one-size-fits-all template for interacting with these populations, but we teach the officers to slow down, switch gears, and utilize different communication strategies," Thiry sad. She hopes to help other law enforcement agencies adopt these strategies in the future.

Tyler agrees. "Now officers are being trained (to ask), 'OK, why is this individual not reacting to me? Is it because of impairment? Is it because of mental illness? Is it because of a cognitive disability? So, it's one more tool in the tool box."


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