California’s Costco Shooting Sheds Light on Need for Mental Disability Training for Law Enforcement
Tragedy struck in June at a Corona, California Costco, when a 32-year old man was fatally shot by an off-duty Los Angeles Police Department officer. The officer also wounded the parents of Kenneth French. The officer's gun was the only one involved in the incident. While it is unclear what provoked the shooting, witnesses had stated that Kenneth French initiated the interaction when he pushed the officer who was holding his toddler son. The action was unprovoked.

Kenneth French's parents attempted to intervene and explain that their son had a mental disability. French was a man who was schizophrenic, nonverbal, and suffered from an intellectual disability. French had been experiencing a medication change at the time. When French’s mother stepped in between the officer and her son, she was shot in the back. French’s father was also shot during the incident. French was ultimately killed by the officer. The officer was placed on administrative leave.

Need for Training

This tragic incident underscores the need for law enforcement officers to be trained on how to handle situations involving people with mental disabilities. Once the officer was informed that French had a mental disability, the officer should have handled the situation differently. With proper training, he may have been able to defuse the situation without violence. Law enforcement should be trained on appropriate de-escalation tactics to use when faced with a person who has a mental disability.

While LAPD officers do receive some training on how to handle mental health crises, it is clear that more education is needed. People with intellectual and developmental disabilities sometimes act out their frustrations physically rather than verbally. They don't interpret their environment the same way other people do. Yelling or getting into an argument with the person is not the answer. Family members often know how to defuse the situation properly, but in this case, French's family was shot rather than given the opportunity to calm their son down. Officers should be trained to take cues from family members and caretakers when handling mental health crises.

Unfortunately, without proper training of law enforcement officer, the world becomes a dangerous place for those with mental disabilities. Their lives are in jeopardy every time they leave their homes. Individuals with mental disabilities should be able to look to law enforcement for help in a crisis and not be afraid they will be injured if they approach a police officer.

If you or a loved one has a mental disability and has been arrested or convicted of a crime, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side. Elizabeth Kelley specializes in representing individuals with mental disabilities. To schedule a consultation call (509) 991-7058.
Elizabeth Kelley
Criminal Defense Attorney
Elizabeth Kelley is a criminal defense lawyer with a nationwide practice specializing in representing people with mental disabilities. She is the co-chair of The Arc's National Center for Criminal Justice and Disability, has served three terms on the board of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and serves on the Editorial Board of the American Bar Association's Criminal Justice Section Magazine.  Learn more .
Further Reading
Noncustodial Client Suicide: Prevention and Attorney Well-Being
The Summer issue of The American Bar Association's Criminal Justice Magazine published an article by Dr. Franceca Flood and Elizabeth. Although much has been written about people who commit suicide while in jail, virtually nothing has been written (or even studied) about people who are on bond awaiting disposition of their case. Dr. Franceca Flood and Elizabeth's work in this sense is ground-breaking. And they relate their findings to the well-being of the lawyers who represent these individuals. 
Scott County Sheriff’s Office to host first Sensory-Friendly Safety Day
Cheers to Scott County, Minnesota for promoting positive interactions between law enforcement and people with intellectual/developmental disabilities. 
Cruel confinement: Judge halts use of solitary cell for mentally-ill teen; says 17-year-old suffered ‘irreparable harm’
Stories like this should persuade New York lawmakers to end solitary confinement.
Psychological association warns against blaming mass shootings on mental illness
The country’s largest organization of psychiatrists pushed back against comments from politicians linking the most recent spate of mass shootings to mental illness.
Finding and Losing Rosemary Kennedy - Los Angeles Review of Books
Although we have made progress is combatting the stigma of mental disabilities, much remains to be done.
Books & Videos
FREE E-Book! Families' Guide to Working with a Criminal Defense Lawyer

When your family member with a mental disability has been arrested or charged with a crime, it can be a confusing and challenging experience that leaves you unsure of where to turn for answers. Here are some key things families can do to help the defense attorney handling their case.
Representing People with Mental Disabilities: A Criminal Defense Lawyer's Best Practices Manual

Edited by Elizabeth Kelley, this book is available for purchase from The American Bar Association. It contains chapters devoted to a variety of issues confronted by people with mental disabilities in the criminal justice system such as Competency, Sanity, Malingering, Neuroscience, Jail and Prison Conditions, Working with Experts,and Risk Assessment. Chapters are written by academics, mental health experts, and criminal defense lawyers. In the Introduction, Elizabeth writes that "This is the resource I wish I had had many years ago."