Family of man killed by NYPD is suing the city, seeking better training to deal with the mentally ill

Mohamed Bah's sister and mother, along with attorney Randolph McLaughlin, speak to reporters outside U.S. district court in New York City, , Monday, Sept. 23, 2013.

(CBS) NEW YORK - On Sept. 25, 2012, Hawa Bah called 911 to ask for help getting her depressed son, Mohamed, to a hospital for medical care. But it wasn't an ambulance that showed up, it was armed New York City police officers.

"I didn't call police because he had done nothing wrong," Bah told reporters on Monday.

But Bah says that despite her requests that the officers leave her son's apartment, they forced their way in and, after a confrontation in which police allege Bah lunged at the officers with a knife, shot and killed 28-year-old Mohamed.

"He was in his house, the cops should have respected his request to leave him alone, or at least allow my mom to speak to him," said Mohamed's sister, Oumou Bah.

On Monday, Bah's family filed a federal lawsuit aiming to force the city to create a program to train officers to better deal with emotionally disturbed citizens, as well as seeking unspecified damages.

"We hope this case will set an example and start to put effective measures in place to protect people that are sick," said Oumou Bah.

Randolph M. McLaughlin, one of the attorneys representing the family, told reporters that current NYPD protocols for dealing with the estimated 100,000-plus annual calls from "emotionally disturbed persons" (EDP) are "no longer adequate."

McLaughlin and the Bah family are asking that the NYPD to implement the "Memphis Model," a training program developed by the Memphis Police Department in 1988 which brings police together with mental health professionals to create a Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) responsible for responding to EDP calls. According to the University of Memphis CIT Center, more than 2,700 police departments around the country have implemented CIT, including Westchester and Nassau counties, just outside New York City.

Among the program's primary goals is to teach officers to de-escalate situations involving the mentally ill and others in crisis. Hawa Bah told reporters that police refused to allow her to speak with her son once they arrived, and entered his home without permission. Officers who undergo CIT training are taught to do just the opposite - to take their time with disturbed subjects, and when appropriate, use family members to help calm a person in crisis.

"No mother should have to ask herself before calling for help for a child she believes may be suffering from a mental illness, in making this call will I be responsible for my child's death," said attorney Debra Cohen.

The Bah family is not alone in their quest to bring CIT to New York. On Sept. 25, a group comprised of advocates for the mentally ill will also hold a press conference announcing their intention to push the city to do the same.

The Bah family told reporters that they want to see the officers who killed Mohamed indicted, but said that the NYPD has thus far not released the names of the officers involved in the incident.

"The DA's office promised us that they would present this case to the grand jury," said attorney Franciscus Diaba. "We hope that they keep their promise."

The New York City Law Department issued a statement saying they are currently reviewing the claims in the Bah case.

  • Julia Dahl

    Julia Dahl writes about crime and justice for