SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Police say the man who was shot and killed by Springfield officers on New Year’s Day might have dealt with mental health issues.
And the officers on scene that early morning had not received advanced training through Crisis Intervention. But police say 44-year-old James Lewis was not engaging, so officers couldn’t help him. He finally pointed a gun at officers, which ended with him being killed.
“I wish he would have just dropped the gun and been compliant,” said police chief Paul Williams at a press conference Tuesday afternoon.
Police say this was not the first time officers had an interaction with Lewis. They had come in contact with him from 60 to 65 before
“Some stealing, some drugs, some trespassing, a whole array of thing throughout the course of his life,” said Chief Williams.
But this time, police say, Lewis called 911 himself, telling dispatch he was going to kill his wife.
“He did threaten to kill his wife. And he said he had a gun, and he gave us his location,” said Chief Williams.
Lewis was riding around on a bicycle in the Silver Springs Park. There, police say he fired one round or two but not at the officers who were present trying to make contact with him.
Police say Lewis then headed towards North National and Lynn, where after a couple tries of bean bags and tasers, Lewis still didn’t comply with officers. That’s when police say Lewis pointed a revolver at three officers from about 10 feet away. The officers fired and killed Lewis.
Through those previous incidents with Lewis, Chief Williams says he had had indication that Lewis had some mental illness issues. But that the officers on scene that night did not know who he was since he was not engaging in conversation with officers or complying with any commands.
“They had no idea who this person was or what was going on other than the 911 call that they responded to,” Chief Williams said.
Chief Williams says all officers undergo 15 hours of mental health awareness, but only about 20 percent of the force, or 70 officers, receive intensive training through the Crisis Intervention Team.
“Only those people who really want to do and who are really going to use it is who I want to put through it,” Williams said.
CIT training is not mandatory, a decision Chief Williams made after out of a pilot program only two officers found it to be beneficial.
As for the night of this most recent fatal incident with a possible mental ill person, the chief says none of them were CIT trained. But that he believes his officers did what they had to do once a gun was pulled.
“Then it’s all about officer safety and make sure you protect the public,” he said. “From what I’ve gained from the officers, it wouldn’t have made a difference what kind of level of training in any aspect they had. If someone is not engaging with you, then you can’t utilize that training to interact with them.”