Bodycam Footage Released Of Critical Shooting Of Black Man After Mental Health Crisis Call

The Baltimore Police Department released bodycam footage on Thursday of a mental health crisis call that resulted in a police-involved shooting that left an African-American man critically wounded. The footage of the incident, which occurred July 1, clearly shows that the suspect aimed a firearm at one of the officers before he was shot, but the shooting has stirred debate on several fronts nonetheless.

Amid a growing movement to “defund the police” and install “transformative” alternatives to public safety, particularly for cases involving mental health issues, the case of Baltimore resident Ricky Walker Jr. demonstrates the complexity and danger of dealing with behavioral crises. The case also highlights the national debate over “red flag” laws, as police had been called 10 days earlier over Walker’s threatening behavior involving another gun.

Along with the release of the body cam footage, Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison provided more details about the case Thursday, including information about an incident 10 days before the shooting in which Walker was “hospitalized after being found naked with a gun that he reportedly fired at vehicles,” as reported by The Baltimore Sun.

In that earlier incident, police seized the firearm, but police said no follow-up had been conducted to see if Walker had any other weapons. Under the state’s “red flag” law, law enforcement officials can temporarily confiscate weapons from people deemed to be potential threats to themselves or others. Harrison said, however, that no follow-up had been conducted to see if Walker had any other weapons.

The 22-minute video released Thursday begins with the 911 call that prompted the police visit to Walker’s residence. In the call, Walker’s mother-in-law describes him as having a psychological episode and “hearing voices.” She says he is possibly violent and that she is unsure if he has a weapon. The responding officer explains that, along with police, he will be sending paramedics to help address the apparent mental break. She makes a point of warning that her son-in-law might “go crazy” if responders arrive with sirens wailing.

The video then provides bodycam footage of police and medics arriving at the home. Asked if Walker is “combative,” his mother-in-law says “highly.” She also informs authorities that Walker has a firearm. Since he is potentially armed, the medics remain outside while the police enter the home alone and descend to the basement where Walker and his wife are. Police ask his wife to leave the room and calmly try to get Walker to agree to treatment.

During the exchange, Walker appears to be speaking to a camera he apparently placed in the room. He tells the police he is “not trying to kill” them. “You can’t kill me,” he says early on. He also asks why police are in his house, accusing them of illegally entering despite being informed that his family called them there. “Y’all can’t kill me in real life,” he says at one point, adding, “I’m on camera.”

For most of the conversation, Walker keeps his hands above his head, but after several minutes of officers, including Officer Asa Gray, trying to talk him into speaking with “the doctors,” he suddenly reaches into his pocket and pulls out a handgun, which the video highlights by pausing and zooming in. Walker then aims his weapon at Officer Eduardo Ortiz. Ortiz and Officer Avery Torand fires multiple times.

Walker is currently hospitalized in stable condition and has been charged with first-degree assault for pointing a weapon at an officer.

As highlighted by The Baltimore Sun, Harrison addressed the national debate about providing alternatives to police in certain situations during his comments Thursday. He said that while he agreed with “much” of those sentiments, he stressed that it is “important we put this into context with the realities of the safety of all those involved.”

The paper also cites Behavioral Health Systems Baltimore’s Adrienne Breidenstine, who said that the Walker incident demonstrates that mental health professionals need to also be involved in such situations. “It shows mental health professionals should have been involved with the response, along with police and EMS,” said Breidensteine.

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