His name was Robert Coleman.
He was an 88-year-old black man, struggling with a mental illness. And on the early morning of September 12, around 3 am, West Sacramento police fatally shot him.
Immediately, officers responded to reports of a man with a gun at the intersection of Poplar and Merkley Avenues. When they came into contact with Mr. Coleman, he was sitting in his car. Officers started talking to him. Then he “exited the vehicle armed with a handgun and a shooting ensued.”
Mr. Coleman, a former City employee, beloved community member, and West Sacramento Police Department volunteer, died. There are no reports of Mr. Coleman firing the alleged weapon he held. No officers were injured.
The West Sacramento Police Department is not handling the investigation into its officers. As per protocols, an independent investigation is ongoing by the Davis Police Department. Later, the bodycam footage of the incident was released. Indeed, all police officers involved in the incident had their body cams on and were recording.
The footage will be provided to the family first, out of respect. Additionally, the officers involved in the shooting are out on administrative leave, pending further review.
Sacramento BLM Shared These Words Regarding Mr. Coleman’s Death
Within moments of the release of Mr. Coleman’s identity, many within Sacramento’s African American community demanded to know “Why?”
Certainly, Sacramento Black Lives Matter had something to say about the incident.
“Just to make sure you know Black Lives Matter Sacramento believes that ALL Black lives matter. Even those that worked for WSPD. And even in a situation when/and IF someone is trying to end their life by police, police should be using their de-escalation tactics. We will hold and support this family in any and every way possible. We will also fight for and advocate for this 88-year-old Black man that should still be here..being loved, cracking corny jokes..or whatever he did. He is our elder and we hold him close. There is no example bigger than that, that proves inequities based on race! #JusticeForRobertColeman”
West Sacramento Mayor’s Message On The Officer-Involved Shooting
In a video statement, West Sacramento Mayor Cabaldon related that he spoke with the 88-year-old’s family over the weekend. Overall, they shared that Bob struggled with suicidal ideation, which refers to thinking about, considering, or planning suicide. For those that are not aware, suicidal thoughts caused by depression can affect anyone. Regardless of age, gender, or background, suicide can happen. Despite everything that had happened, the family told Cabaldon they wished for the community to know about Coleman’s struggles with mental illness and the family’s continued attempts to get him help. The mayor offered these words.
“In recent years, Bob struggled with mental illness. He contemplated suicide, and through it all, he was stubbornly independent.”
West Sacramento Police Department Statement
In a statement released on the WSPD’s Facebook page, the department shared their sadness at Mr. Coleman’s death. Also, the public was reminded a full investigation is underway.
“Today, the Yolo County Coroner confirmed the identity of the man fatally shot by West Sacramento Police near the 1800 block of West Capitol Avenue Saturday morning as 88-year old West Sacramento resident Robert Coleman.
Many people are impacted any time a life is lost. In this case, Mr. Coleman was not only a loving husband and a caring father, but he was also a member of the West Sacramento Police Department family for almost 10 years. Mr. Coleman began his career with the City in the late 1990s as a Code Enforcement Officer, then as a Parking Enforcement Officer, and lastly as a Volunteer in Policing until 2004. According to Mr. Coleman’s family, he had recently been struggling with mental illness and had expressed suicidal ideations. We are all deeply saddened by this tragedy and ask that you keep the Coleman family in your thoughts.
Mr. Coleman’s condition, although relevant, will not impact the investigative efforts to scrutinize the actions of the involved officers. That investigation continues to be led by the Davis Police Department.
The City of West Sacramento will release body camera and in-car camera footage of the incident, which is currently being prepared in accordance with the law, and more details about the incident will be provided at that time. We appreciate the community’s patience with the proper release of this information.”
Defunding The Police Department To Allow For The Creation Of Crisis Intervention Teams
In late July, amidst community calls to “Defund the Police” the West Sacramento Police department began to restructure its department. Indeed, this budgetary feat will be accomplished by shifting money away from police officers, by not filling five current vacant police positions and relocating that money toward a Crisis Intervention Team (CIT). Alas, a nationwide lack of mental health crisis services has resulted in law enforcement officers serving as mental healthcare first responders.
The National Alliance On Mental Illness (NAMI) advocates for creating CIT programs in each city nationwide.
The purpose is to “create connections between law enforcement, mental health providers, hospital emergency services and individuals with mental illness and their families.” While a lofty goal, it could be achieved through “collaborative community partnerships and intensive training.” Additionally, CIT’ can provide many benefits to the communities they serve by keeping people with mental illness out of jail. Furthermore, these people would receive treatment and be on the road to recovery or long term maintenance of their mental health conditions.
Additional Benefits Include:
- Giving police officers more tools to do their jobs effectively, respectfully, and safely. Research shows that CIT is associated with improved officer attitude and knowledge about mental illness.
- CIT’s allow law enforcement’s focus to be on crime, not on mental illness. Some communities have found that CIT has dramatically decreased the time local enforcement officers use responding to a mental health call. They are keeping the community safer by allowing the officer to focus on crime.
- In this time of budget cuts due to COVID-19, CIT could also produce significant cost savings. While it’s difficult to estimate precisely how much diversion programs can save communities, we know incarceration is costly compared to community-based mental health care treatment.
The Community Remembers A Man Of Honor And Leadership
Former WSPD Officer Jimmy Reeder, of Rancho Cordova wrote on a social media post about Coleman’s death.
“Very saddened for both Bob’s family and WSPD. I first meant Bob while a Police Officer for WSPD on an assignment working a River Cats Game and he was working on traffic duty.
“Bob came into the stadium to check on the inning and score and approached me and said I need to smile. He then proceeded to tell me a joke that made me laugh and smile. We talked some more and would tell more funny jokes.”
He went on to remember Bob’s sense of humor.
“I would make sure I talked to Bob on every detail we worked together to hear his jokes. Bob was that kind of person to cheer you up. I am in shock and in disbelieve that this happened. Mental illness facilities need to be back open with the proper funding for people to get the proper treatment.”
Former associate, Walt Able of Sacramento, shared his shock at Bob’s loss.
“I had the luxury of working with and supervising Mr. Bob Coleman. He was always a joy to be around. Always positive when at work and willing to talk to anyone. I know the past year he had been really struggling. I hear in some of these comments that this investigation will be different since he was one of our own. It won’t make a difference. What is different is Bob is no longer with us and he will be missed. My condolences to the Coleman family. Sorry for the officers involved in this tragedy. Any shooting is a traumatic thing to go through.”
September Is Suicide Prevention Month
Coleman’s family informed police he had been struggling with mental illness and had talked about suicide, the Sacramento Bee reported Monday.
Bob’s family requested that his long time struggle with depression be shared with the community. In truth, they seek to encourage others to seek care without shame. Sadly, few people realize that the suicide death rate is highest among seniors.
The Suicide Resource Prevention Center has a startling statistic.
“Suicide rates are particularly high among older men, with men ages 85 and older having the highest rate of any group in the country. Suicide attempts by older adults are much more likely to result in death than among younger persons.”
The year 2020 has been a chaotic year, with a global pandemic, and a resulting economic meltdown. Unfortunately, all of it brings rising social tensions.
Older adults with severe long term health conditions face a more significant recovery challenge when infected with COVID-19. Also, older adults with health conditions are encouraged to keep sheltering in place. Unable to visit friends, hug their grandchildren, or attend weekly religious services, many seniors are increasingly struggling with the adverse effects of social isolation. Decreasing community engagement, increasing withdrawal from social patterns, and more isolation leads to building disconnect from the rest of the world. Ultimately, the happiness of the individual drops significantly.
All of this can culminate in the development of life-threatening depression, expression of suicidal ideations, and attempting to take one’s own life.
Risk Factors For Suicide In Seniors
The National Alliance On Mental Illness (NAMI) is a United States-based advocacy group. Consequently, the group is made up of the family members of people diagnosed with mental illness. Fortunately, the organization provided a list of risk factors that caregivers should be aware of:
- Substance abuse and misuse of prescriptions
- Physical ailments that cause pain, insomnia, or disability.
- Financial difficulties
- Mood disorders, especially major depression
- The means to end their lives, such as firearm access or excessive amounts of medications that could cause death when taken in excess
- Feelings of despair—a lack of hope, direction, deflated self-worth, or a sense of “being a burden”
- Overwhelming life conditions, such as social distancing (increasing social isolation), wearing masks, giving up driving, loss of a long term partner, and issues with mobility
- Personal history of suicide attempts or the loss of a family member who has ended their own life
“You Are Not Alone:” Don’t Ignore The Caution Signs
NAMI encourages families to stay aware and to take immediate action to protect their loved ones from an imminent suicide attempt. The organization also provides these examples of cautionary signs.
- Making statements such as, “I don’t want to be here anymore,” “I wish could just go away,” “Life’s not worth living anymore,” or “You all would be better off without me”
- Giving away cherished possessions, a new fixation with “getting their affairs in order”
- Buying a gun or hoarding medications that could be used to end their life
- Saying goodbye to family, friends, and those they love
- The sudden re-homing for their long time pet
Regional/National Mental Health Advocacy Groups For Seniors & Their Caregivers
- NAMI Sacramento
- Sierra Elder Wellness Program
- Sacramento County Mental Health
- Heritage Oaks Hospital
- Del Oro Caregiver Resource Center
- Yolo Mental Health Urgent Clinic
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline