(UPDATE: The Mesa Police Department initially identified the person shot by officers as a woman named Danielle Jacobs. However, New Times has since learned he was a transgender man whom friends knew as Kayden Clarke. The killing and mis-identification by police have incensed the transgender community.)
Two Mesa police officers who shot and killed a 24-year-old woman with Asperger syndrome have been placed on administrative leave while officials investigate, it was announced this afternoon.
“We don’t know at this point why they made the decision to go lethal,” police spokesman Esteban Flores told reporters.
Three officers went to Danielle Jacobs’ home Thursday after a friend alerted police that she was suicidal. When they entered her apartment near 80th Street and Brown Road, Jacobs came out of the back bedroom holding a kitchen knife with an eight-inch blade.
One officer returned to the police car to get a beanbag gun, hoping to avoid using lethal force, while the other two attempted to “de-escalate the situation,” he said.
When Jacobs lunged toward officers, both fired their guns. Flores declined to say how many times she was shot.
Jacobs posted a popular online video last year attempting to raise awareness about the difficulties of living with Asperger syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism. In the video, which was viewed more than 2.4 million times, Jacobs’ sobbed and struck herself while her Rottweiler tried to comfort her. The dog, named Samson, used his paws to block her from hitting herself.
Jacobs adopted Samson from Halo Animal Rescue in Phoenix in 2011 and trained him to assist her.
"When I have a meltdown, I often have self-injurious behavior and I often self-harm," she told the Huffington Post after the video went viral.
She compared her meltdowns to an overloaded computer.
"There's too much input, there's not enough output," she said. "You lose control, and you crash."
Samson was in a crate when Jacobs was killed.
Police were not aware of Jacobs’ mental-health history before the incident, Flores said.
“All we knew is that she was trying to commit suicide,” he said.
Flores, expressing sympathy for Jacobs' friends and family, said the Mesa Police Department was committed to increasing the number of officers who participate in crisis-intervention training (CIT) to teach them how to de-escalate tense situations involving mentally ill or developmentally disabled people.
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Just 22 percent of Mesa’s police force has completed CIT, said Amanda Stamps, a coordinator for the department's crisis-intervention team.
One of the officers involved in the shooting of Jacobs was CIT certified, however.
Stamps said it is unclear whether the officer followed the recommended protocol for dealing with a suicidal, developmentally disabled person.
"No training is foolproof," Flores said.