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The Lady Did Not Have To Die

Locks Law Firm represents people in civil rights cases who have been injured by police or prison guards or other government officials. The civil rights case that affected me most deeply occurred in Jersey City, NJ. A woman who had mental health problems was threatening her husband with a knife. Her husband called the police to try to get mental health help for her. When the police arrived, the husband was safely outside. Police knocked on the door. The lady opened the door a small amount. She did not have a knife. Police asked her to let them in. She closed the door. The lady was now alone inside her apartment with many police in the hallway.

Instead of calling for a negotiator or obtaining a warrant, the police called for the SWAT team, experts in breaking down doors. Two members of the SWAT team, protected by a big shield, broke in the lady’s door. The two SWAT officers led five other officers into the small apartment. The lady now had a knife and swung it at the officers. The officers recognized that she was crazy. One said she didn’t know the police were there. Another said she had a 1,000 yard stare. The SWAT team hit the lady’s arm repeatedly with a baton, but she didn’t drop the knife. The police maced her, but it did not appear to affect her. The seven officers pushed the woman back until she was in her very small bathroom. Her knife pricked one SWAT officer in the forehead and scratched the other SWAT officer in the arm. One SWAT officer lost control and fired twelve shots at the lady point blank, hitting her with six. The last shot caused blood to burst from her breast like a volcano. She died almost immediately, slumped at the base of her toilet.

My colleague Jerry Lindheim and I represented this woman’s husband and estate. I took about a dozen depositions and defended two more. We learned that the police had a negotiator who was trained for exactly this type of barricaded situation, but he was never called. We learned that the officer who lost control and fired all the shots had a history of unnecessary use of force, but he had never been disciplined by Internal Affairs. We eventually settled this woman’s case.

Locks Law Firm stands ready to help other such people whose civil rights have been violated by the government.