BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Family and friends of a man shot by a Buffalo police officer rallied in Niagara Square Saturday afternoon, calling for change when it comes to handling mental health crisis calls.
The protest comes a week after body camera video showed the officer firing multiple shots while the man held a pellet gun to his own head.
Joy Battison described her brother as a kind man with a sarcastic sense of humor and a person who helps others. But she says that shouldn’t matter.
“He doesn’t have to be a person you like, respect, relate to, admire or care about to deserve a chance to be helped in a life saved,” Battison said.
On Sept. 23, Buffalo police responded to a call for a suicidal man who reportedly ingested pills at a home on Tonawanda Street. In the attic, they found the man standing with a gun held under his chin.
After repeatedly ordering the man to drop his weapon, an officer fired eight shots, hitting the man once in the neck area. He was taken to ECMC where he was listed in critical condition but was considered stable.
Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia said it wasn’t until the man was shot that officers realized the object he was holding was a pellet gun.
The department’s behavioral health team — which staffs mental health clinicians — was not working at the time of this call, which was about 4:20 a.m. According to BPD’s website, that team is only staffed Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m.
“This obviously took a turn as officers arrived and that happens, not just in mental health calls. Officers will respond to calls and they take a sudden twist, a sudden turn. Facts that were not conveyed in the 911 call reveal themselves when officers arrive on scene,” Gramaglia said in a press conference after the body cam footage was released.
But those at today’s rally say that’s something that needs to be changed.
“Each individual facing crisis, especially one as severe as suicidal thoughts, deserves our utmost compassion, support and assistance. Mental health challenges affect millions of people worldwide, and it is our collective responsibility to create an environment where those who are suffering are safe seeking help.”