When Alice Hoal called the Collierville Police Department one morning last summer, it was because she thought her husband, David Hoal, might kill himself with a gun in the backyard of their Tennessee home.
In the end, he was fatally shot by one of the responding officers, according to a civil rights lawsuit that Alice Hoal filed last month against the Town of Collierville and Officer Austin Waguespack.
Hoal had told 911 dispatchers in that June 3 call that David, 59, might be alright once he received some mental health treatment, as he hadn’t taken his medication. She didn’t say she was afraid for her safety, according to her lawsuit, but made it “very clear” that David, who was described in his obituary as a “dedicated family man and a natural father” to his two children, was suicidal.
The officers who responded to her call, however, were not part of the police department’s crisis intervention team, composed of law enforcement professionals who receive special training in mental illness. She got the SWAT team, instead.
Bearing AR-15 assault rifles and tactical gear, Collierville SWAT officers covertly descended on the house that morning and formed a perimeter around the yard where David stood with a gun at his side. Waguespack, who is a part of that team, yelled at David to drop the weapon as he stood approximately 40 feet away, behind a picket fence, according to Hoal’s lawsuit.
David, who was facing his wife at the time, turned toward the officer, but “never raised his gun or took any aggressive action towards anyone,” according to the complaint. Waguespack shot him through the heart less than five seconds after he issued the command, according to Hoal’s attorneys.
“As soon as the fatal shot was fired, Plaintiff can be heard on the audio recording screaming in fear and heartbreak,” Hoal’s attorneys, Jeffrey Rosenblum and Matthew May, wrote in the lawsuit.
Hoal had called 911 just the night before, to seek help for David. That time, police trained in crisis intervention responded, although they left after determining David “was not an imminent threat to himself or others.”
Hoal’s attorneys did not immediately respond to a VICE News request for comment about whether her husband had difficulties accessing mental health treatment previously.
“The man was in his backyard. He was suicidal. He needed help, but instead, the cavalry came,” Rosenblum told WMC-TV, the NBC affiliate for Memphis. “The militarization of our police force we see again.”
By the time the SWAT officers arrived, David was holding his gun in a “low ready” position. Waguespack, who took cover behind a storage shed before moving over to the picket fence, believed David “posed an immediate threat of serious physical harm or death” to Alice and the officers at the scene, including himself, according to a response that an attorney for the town of Collierville filed last week in Tennessee federal court, denying any wrongdoing.
David was angry the police were there, angry at his wife for calling them, and ignored repeated commands from both the officers and his wife to drop the gun, the attorney, Edward McKenney, wrote. And he had been “acting in a threatening manner.” Alice had called 911 from a locked bathroom, according to McKenney’s response. David was walking toward her in the moments before he was killed.
The Collierville Police Department did not immediately respond to a VICE News request for comment about the shooting.
The Shelby County District Attorney’s Office asked the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to look into the shooting, as is standard, according to the Commercial Appeal in Memphis. Findings were sent to the Shelby County District Attorney’s Office earlier this year, and a spokesperson there said the case is still being reviewed.
Hoal’s death is one of many mental health crises that have turned violent upon police involvement. By one 2015 estimate from the Treatment Advocacy Center, people with untreated serious mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed when approached or stopped by law enforcement, compared to individuals without mental illness.
A recent nationwide uprising against police brutality, however, has brought more attention to the issue, with some protesters successfully lobbying their cities to remove police officers from calls about mental health or homelessness, so trained professionals can respond, instead.
"She sees what happened to her own husband and is afraid that it will continue to happen until people like her speak out and say enough is enough," Rosenblum, Hoal’s attorney, told WMC-TV.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text TALK to 741741, or visit https://suicidepreventionlifel… for more information.
Cover: A generic stock photo of a woman using a Google Nexus 5 mobile phone. November 19, 2014. Photo credit: Lauren Hurley/PA Wire URN:21520624 (Press Association via AP Images)