About once a week on average, police are confronted with a scene very similar to one that played out in Las Vegas: A man with a gun and a powerful death wish, CBS News Correspondent Jim Stewart reports.
"Just shoot me, man!" John Walker demanded, and so the police did.
In Shelby, N.C., Henry Brown had to practically beg for it. He brought his death wish to the very front steps of the local police department. "Do what you're supposed to do," he screamed at the police sharpshooters. "End it!" And in a hail of gunfire, they did.
It's called "suicide by cop," a phenomenon in which someone intent on killing themselves deliberately provokes a policeman to do the job for them.
Cops on the beat have whispered about it for years. But it wasn't until a Harvard physician at a Boston hospital took a hard look at the data that it became clear just how extraordinarily widespread the practice has become.
Dr. Range Hutson of Brigham and Women's Hospital studied 437 officer-involved shootings by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and came to the conclusion that a startling number were suicide by cop. "We were extremely surprised that it accounted for 27 percent of all officer-involved justifiable homicides," Hutson said.
Hutson used four criteria to identify such cases: First, that the victims showed signs of suicidal intent; evidence that they specifically wanted a cop to shoot them; evidence that they possessed a weapon; and that they escalated the encounter themselves.
"Sixty percent of the people in our study told friends or family that they had a wish to die and some of the people in our study wrote a suicide letter mentioning that they wanted law enforcement to kill them," Hutson said.
Which is just what 29-year-old Denise Mondello of California did. She sought out a policeman in the parking lot of a Los Angeles hospital. When Deputy Glenn Vincent asked, "Is there something I can do for you?", she pulled a gun.
Vincent said: "In milliseconds these thoughts go through my mind: Now, is this some kind of joke? Is this some undercover female deputy? I even took the time to look into the cylinders of the revolver, a .357. I could see the hollow point bullets inside."
Instinctively, Vincent dropped to one knee and shot Denise Mondello dead. An hour later police found the note in her car. "She wrote . . .," Vincent began. Then he broke into tears.
A cop's job is hard enough as it is, psychologists say. To be forced to inflict death like this, simply tears many of them apart.
Mondello wrote: "Please forgive me. My intention was never to hurt anyone. This was just a sad and sick rouse to get someone to shoot me. I didn't have the nerve to pull the trigger myself."
Deputy Vincent said: "This woman used me to kill her to solve her problems. Well, that didn't solve her problems. The pain was passed on to me and my family, and her famiy, too."
There's been so much pain that increasing numbers of police departments have decided to do something about it.
Jim Stewart looks at police strategies to prevent "suicide by cop" in Part 2 of his report Tuesday night on the CBS Evening News.
©1999 CBS Worldwide Corp. All rights reserved
Copyright 1999 CBS. All rights reserved.
CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff