A former police officer in Virginia was recently sued for the shooting of a Black man in the throes of a mental health crisis more than two years ago.
Lawyers for Christopher Clayton Rice said in the federal civil rights lawsuit that former Hampton police officer Bryan Wilson used excessive force through gross negligence by recognizing Rice was suffering from mental illness before shooting him multiple times in the southeastern Virginia city.
What the lawsuit says
On Jan. 4, 2022, Rice — who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia — was outside of a car dealership wielding an aluminum baseball bat and threatening workers, according to a 911 call reporting the incident. Wilson was among the first responding officers.
According to the lawsuit, Wilson “advised” other officers “via radio” that Rice “appeared to be having a mental health crisis.” Rice “never threatened anyone or acted aggressively with the bat,” the lawsuit says.
Sgt. Katherine Novak, identified in media reports but not named in the lawsuit, arrived after Wilson called for backup.
When Novak approached Rice, the lawsuit says, he “raised the bat and rested it on his right shoulder,” which prompted “one to three of the officers on scene” to draw Taser guns.
That’s when Wilson drew his gun and aimed it at Rice, the lawsuit says.
Rice “still had not threatened anyone and had not shown any aggression towards officers or bystanders to this point,” the lawsuit says.
But when Novak “continued approaching [Rice] and ultimately lunged towards him in an attempt to take the bat,” Rice “moved the bat from one hand to the other before swinging the bat at the sergeant with one hand, striking her in the head,” the lawsuit says.
In response, Wilson “fired five shots” at Rice, striking him in his left thigh, right forearm and upper left chest.
The lawsuit goes on to claim that Wilson, after shooting Rice, went to check on Novak instead of rendering aid to the person he just shot.
Rice, who survived the shooting, was subsequently charged with malicious wounding of a law enforcement officer and trespassing.
The lawsuit claims that Wilson “used unnecessary, excessive, and deadly force” that was “objectively unreasonable in light of the facts and circumstances confronting him.”
The lawsuit is seeking unspecified compensatory damages.
Read the full lawsuit by clicking here.
Civil rights attorney Bakari Sellers is among the lawyers representing Rice. He said the officers involved escalated the situation instead of sending for a mental health professional.
“The simple fact is that Clayton Rice was having a mental health crisis. Everyone could see it. Even Officer Wilson commented on it,” Sellers said in an email sent to NewsOne. “But they didn’t send a doctor or medical professionals. They sent law enforcement with their weapons drawn. That’s not only irresponsible. It’s a recipe for disaster and Clayton Rice is lucky to be alive.”
There have multiple documented instances of the police resorting to lethal force during encounters with people suffering mental health crises — particularly Black people.
In an example of how such situations typically play out in the legal system, a San Francisco police officer who shot and killed a Black man on his own home’s front steps had manslaughter charges against him dismissed last summer even though Sean Moore was in the middle of a mental health crisis caused by bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins, who is Black, said her office could “not ethically prosecute this case in good faith.”
This is America.
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