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Cops Say They Needed to Kill John Berry — But This Footage May Contradict That

Five sheriff's deputies, responding a request for psychiatric assistance, attempted to remove John Berry from his vehicle parked outside his family residence. He ended up dead.
August 25, 2015, 8:00pm
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"Stop beating him" a woman can be heard screaming over and over again in the shaky cellphone video that captured the last moments of John Berry's life.

In the video, which was taken in broad daylight by a neighbor and released by the attorney representing Berry's family on Monday, five sheriff's deputies from Los Angeles County attempt to pull Berry, 31, out of a car parked outside his Lakewood family home.

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After repeated efforts to remove him, the deputies' first pepper spray him, hit him with batons, fire a Taser device at least four times, before finally firing the gunshots that killed him.

Berry, 31, had reportedly been diagnosed with schizophrenia and was prescribed medication to treat it.

On July 4, two days before his death, he arrived at his family's home in apparent distress, and refused to leave his car. His family suspected he had stopped taking his medication.

His brother, Chris Berry, a federal police officer, called the Lakewood sheriff's station on July 6 and requested a mental evaluation team.

"He was sitting in the driver's seat of his BMW," Chris Berry, 37, told the Los Angeles Times, "I could tell he hadn't slept in a while."

The sheriff dispatched a team of deputies instead.

The newly released footage challenges the deputies' version of events that led to Berry's death. They contend that Berry accelerated his vehicle — which the video shows was flanked by parked police cars — before ramming it into a patrol car.

The Lakewood sheriff's department was unable to comment due to the fact that an investigation into the incident is ongoing.

In a statement, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department said the video showed only a "portion of the incident" and was consistent with the findings of the department's investigation.

"As deputies arrived, the suspect drove his vehicle head on into a responding sheriff's patrol car. As deputies attempted to remove the suspect from his vehicle, he continued his attempts to operate the vehicle, placing at least one deputy's life in immediate danger," the statement said. "That is when the shooting occurred."

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Steven Carlson, the family's attorney, said in a press conference Monday outside the Berry's home that the Berry family and neighbors who watched the incident were "outraged at the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department's response and explanation of what happened here."

Related: Cops Are Killed 3 Times More Often in States With More Guns, Study Shows

"They said he accelerated and crashed into the police car. That did not happen — I was there for the whole thing," Chris Berry, 37, said. "But they have to say that because it justifies their aggressive actions. I believe in my heart and I know Johnny wasn't trying to hurt them."

Sadly, this instance of police failing to deescalate a situation involving a person having a mental health crisis is not unusual. Just last Thursday, Jeffory Tevis, 50, was holding a "large metal spoon in a threatening manner" before being fatally shot by Alabama police officers.

Tevis was "undergoing an extremely violent mental episode," commander of the Tuscaloosa County Metro Homicide Unit, Gary Hood, told the Guardian in an interview.

The Guardian reported that, although the officers involved were wearing body cameras, they weren't turned on.

"Police officers have increasingly become the first responders when a citizen is in the midst of a psychiatric crisis," a recent report by the Mental Health Subcommittee of the Ad Hoc Police Practices Commission said. "Encounters between persons with mental illness and the police can escalate, sometimes with tragic consequences."

The report notes that nearly half of all fatal shootings by law enforcement nationwide involve persons with mental illness.

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