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Why weren't mental health resources used before San Antonio police killed a woman?

ROB SCHMITZ, HOST:

Three San Antonio police officers have been charged with murder in the shooting death of a 46-year-old mother of four last month. Melissa Perez, who had schizophrenia, was suffering from a mental health crisis. Despite officers being trained on dealing with people in crisis, she was killed. Paul Flahive with Texas Public Radio reports.

PAUL FLAHIVE, BYLINE: In the early hours of June 23, police were sent to Melissa Perez's apartment complex on San Antonio's South Side.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER: Hey.

FLAHIVE: According to an affidavit, the men found a woman trying to cut the wires on fire alarms because she believed the FBI was listening to her through them.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER: Lady, get over here.

FLAHIVE: When they tried to get her to come with them, she fled to her apartment. This body camera footage shows an officer pursue and try to enter her locked apartment through a window. Then Perez throws and hits an officer with a glass candlestick.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER: You're going to get shot.

MELISSA PEREZ: Shoot me. You ain't got no warrant.

FLAHIVE: It was at this point that Police Chief William McManus says the team should have backed off and called for mental health support.

WILLIAM MCMANUS: The proper response would have been for them to simply leave, and we would deal with it at another time that - in a way that would not have put Ms. Perez in the situation that she was in.

FLAHIVE: But he says the mental health unit made up of 16 officers who deal specifically with mental health calls was not requested. And, he says, the officers on the scene never deescalated.

MCMANUS: There were no tactics that were used that would have been appropriate for a mental health call.

FLAHIVE: Instead, within a few minutes, the interaction escalated further and officers shot Perez, who was brandishing a hammer.

DOUG BEACH: This is a wake-up call for San Antonio.

FLAHIVE: Doug Beach is executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness for Greater San Antonio. Aside from the small mental health unit, every SAPD officer, including the shooters, have had at least 40 hours of crisis intervention training.

BEACH: So you have to ask yourself, what is going on? What happened?

FLAHIVE: Perez's family also wants to know how this went so wrong when officers had training. Dan Packard is an attorney who represents the family.

DAN PACKARD: It's not as if you have some rogue police officer who was by himself who shot this woman when she was in her own house behind a locked door.

FLAHIVE: Police defend the training and say there are no gaps and that these officers acted contrary to everything they've been taught. But Packard says that's hard to believe.

PACKARD: It's just a difficult sell to say our training is pristine and we're a paragon of excellence when, in fact, six different officers are there and nobody said anything, nobody deescalated. I don't know how you can say that, you know, that many people misunderstood the training.

FLAHIVE: The Perez family plans to sue the city. Meanwhile, San Antonio City Council has put more money towards expanding mental health services, and the police department was already expanding mental health training when this tragedy took place.

For NPR News, I'm Paul Flahive in San Antonio. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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