Police Killed Woman With Asperger Syndrome, Mom Says

PHOENIX (CN) – A woman with Asperger syndrome who posted a viral video showing her service dog calm her during a breakdown was shot and killed by a Mesa, Arizona, police officer after a 911 call indicating the woman was suicidal, her mother claims in court.

Danielle Jacobs, 24, posted videos to her YouTube channel showing how her pet Rottweiler Samson helped calm her during meltdowns caused by Asperger syndrome. Asperger is no longer classified as a syndrome, but as a disorder on the autism spectrum.

The video, which garnered millions of views, is no longer available on YouTube.

Stacia Clarke filed suit Friday against Mesa and three of its police officers, Joseph DeMarco, Timothy Lefever and Stephen Shannon, in Maricopa County Superior Court for their involvement in Jacobs’ death.

On Feb. 4, 2016, police received a 911 call that Jacobs was in her home talking about suicide.

According to Clarke, officers DeMarco and Lefever arrived at Jacobs’ home first, where they were met by Jacobs’ friend Linda Deede.

Deede told the officers that Jacobs “was mentally ill, that she had her service dog in a small room in the back of the house, and that she recently had spoken of suicide,” the complaint says.

Clarke says her daughter also suffered from bipolar disorder and depression, and that the Mesa Police Department was already aware of Jacobs’ mental illnesses from previous interactions with her.

Deede entered Jacobs’ house and unsuccessfully tried to talk her out of a dark room, the lawsuit claims. She caged Jacobs’ service dog, and told officers that Jacobs was possibly holding a knife.

“At that point in time, the defendant officers were aware that Danielle was a mentally ill young woman, that she was alone in a small darkened room and possibly suicidal, and that she was possibly holding a knife,” the lawsuit says.

Lefever went outside to retrieve a bean-bag gun while DeMarco led Shannon, who had just arrived on the scene, to the room Jacobs was in.

Clarke claims that when DeMarco tried to speak with Jacobs when he approached her room, he saw through the dark that she was holding a knife.

“In response, Officers DeMarco and Shannon drew and turned their guns on Danielle and began shouting orders that she drop the knife and give herself up,” the complaint says.

Shannon reached around the doorway and flipped on a light switch, Clarke claims.

“Officers DeMarco and Shannon both write in their reports that after being startled by the sudden brightness, Danielle, who believed that she was going to be institutionalized and forced medication, started walking towards them,” the lawsuit says.

When she did, DeMarco fired his gun, hitting Jacobs in the stomach. Shannon also fired a round but missed Jacobs, hitting the wall instead.

Jacobs died from her injuries later that night.

Eddie Pantiliat, an attorney for Clarke, wrote in an email that his client is still grieving the loss of her daughter.

“We hope to accomplish justice for the family and hope that it may prevent similar fatalities in the future,” Pantiliat wrote.

Clarke says the officers had a duty to use nonlethal intervention with her daughter, and that Mesa failed to provide its officers with “proper methods of dealing with suicidal and mentally ill individuals, and the employment of nonlethal force in such situations.”

A spokesman for the Mesa Police Department declined to comment on the claims.

Clarke seeks general damages for negligence, assault, battery and wrongful death.

Pantiliat is with the firm Hymson, Goldstein, Pantiliat & Lohr in Scottsdale, Arizona.

 

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