dark phoenix police lights

PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- It was a case that rocked the community and the Phoenix Police Department.

In August 2014, a Phoenix police sergeant shot and killed a 50-year-old mentally ill woman named Michelle Cusseaux.

Police had been called to Cusseaux's apartment to take her to a psychiatric facility.

Cusseaux reportedly raised a small hammer over her head and was gunned down.

[ORIGINAL STORY: Phoenix officer shoots, kills hammer-wielding woman (Aug. 14, 2014)]

Sgt. Percy Dupra, the 20-year-veteran officer who shot and killed Cusseaux, was eventually demoted.  

The Phoenix Police Department made a number of changes in the handling of mental health calls in the wake of the shooting. 

Now more changes are coming.

[WATCH: Changes coming to how police interact with mentally ill]

On Friday, Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams told reporters the department has to do better when it comes to dealing with mentally ill patients and officer-involved shootings.

An independent study of the Phoenix Police Department's use of deadly force determined that not only do officers need more crisis response training, but also mental health professionals are needed to respond to mental health calls.

Cusseaux's mother, Frances Garrett, said most officers on the street don't know how to interact with the mentally ill. 

"That's very encouraging because I don't want or wish for that to ever happen to anyone else," Garrett said. "If this is what they are proposing to do in addition to what they've already done, I am truly in favor of it."

Psychologist Melissa Estavillo said there are a number of rapid response teams across the Valley that have specific training on how to work with the mentally ill, but the key is arriving on a scene before the situation escalates.

"They really have some amazing training techniques, to be able to help people that (sic) are suicidal or aggressive, or really overwhelmed, that (sic) are having serious mental illness," said Estavillo. "To be able to come to a place where they are more calm and not feeling as suicidal in a more stabilized place, is the goal."

Garrett believes her daughter would be alive today if a mental health professional had been first on the scene instead of police officers.

"I have no doubt," she said.

The Chandler Fire Department recently took part in a new program to train 4,500 first responders on how to handle mental health calls.

The program has since expanded to Phoenix, Mesa and Tempe.

Jason Barry is best known for his Dirty Dining Report which airs Fridays at 6:30 p.m. on CBS 5.  He is also the storyteller behind CBS 5's Pay It Forward which airs every Thursday at 6:30 p.m.

Copyright 2019 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.


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