A Houston-area police officer knew his neighbor suffered from mental illness and should have offered assistance when that was apparent, but instead he, a lawyer for the victim's family said Thursday. Pamela Turner had struggled with paranoid schizophrenia since her diagnosis in 2005 and may have been in crisis the night she was killed, civil rights attorney Ben Crump said during a press conference.
Turner was shot by a Baytown police officer Monday night in the parking lot of her apartment complex following a struggle that a bystander captured on video. The city's police have said the Hispanic officer shot the African American woman during an attempted arrest after she shocked him with his Taser.
Late Thursday, police identified the officer as Juan Delacruz, an 11-year veteran of the department, and said he was placed on paid administrative leave after the killing, CBS affiliate KHOU-TV reports.
A police spokesman did not immediately respond to questions Thursday, but previously said the officer tried to arrest Turner because he knew there were outstanding warrants against her. But Crump said the department was attempting to criminalize Turner to justify what he called an "unjustifiable execution."
"Just because you are black and you have mental illness shouldn't equivocate that you should receive the death penalty," Crump said. "That is not America."
Turner's family portrayed the officer as the aggressor and said he approached her as she headed to her home in the same apartment complex where the officer lived.
"She was a lady who had mental health issues. What she needed was a helping hand from the police officer. Instead she got five bullets," Crump said.
Turner's sister, Tracy Frazier, said her sister is being portrayed in the media as "this horrible person" when she said just the opposite was true. She called the officer who killed her sister a "monster" and said nothing about his behavior was justifiable.
"I can only imagine what was going through her mind as that monster stood over her, defenseless, unable to defend herself," Frazier said.
Speaking to the officer, she said, "We're coming for you."
"You're gonna have to look in my father's face — he is waiting for you to look him in the face, so he can ask you 'Why?'" Frazier said.
In the video of the shooting, which was posted on social media, Turner is heard saying "You're actually harassing me" and "I'm actually walking to my house" to the officer as he tries to arrest her. The pair can be seen struggling and Turner falls to the ground. They continue to scuffle and she says, "Why? Why?" and then, "I'm pregnant."
Moments later, something flashes as Turner reaches her arm out toward the officer. Suddenly, he pulls away from her, steps back and fires five gunshots.
Police have said that autopsy results show Turner was not pregnant, but the autopsy report has not been released. Online records show the woman died of multiple gunshot wounds and the death was ruled a homicide by the Harris County Medical Examiner's office.
Crump said the family is having its own autopsy done to determine the truth. He also suggested Turner might have claimed to be pregnant to protect herself because she feared for her life, or due to confusion brought on by her mental illness and the recent birth of her granddaughter. He also said it's possible she attempted to grab the officer's Taser because she was unarmed and was trying to protect herself.
Her daughter, 22-year-old Chelsie Rubin, spoke through tears Thursday as she described learning that her mother had been killed just days after she gave birth to her second child.
"I still can't believe my momma isn't there," Rubin said. "I'm still waiting for her to call me every day, like she did."
Rubin said she asked a Baytown police officer sometime after the shooting if the department was aware of her mother's illness and was told they were.
"You should have let her go home," Rubin said, addressing the officer who killed her mother. "He should have left her alone. She'd still be here today."
On Wednesday, Police Chief Keith Dougherty announced that he had called in the Texas Rangers to conduct the investigation with the Harris County district attorney. He said he was calling in the elite Texas Department of Public Safety investigative unit to assure Pamela Turner's family of a thorough, comprehensive investigation of her death.