Mental Health Awareness Month Begins As GBI, Lawyers Investigate Shooting

May 1, 2018

The GBI is investigating after a 36-year-old woman was shot and killed by police in Johns Creek Saturday morning.

Lawyers for the family of Shukri Said said the incident is an example of tragic irony because May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Attorney Ibrahim Awad said he spoke on Saturday with both the sisters of Said and the GBI. His firm is also investigating the shooting to determine what training the officers on the scene had in handling a mental health crisis and whether the woman's civil rights were violated.

Said was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia in 2010, Awad said. She and her family at that time lived in California. When Said would have episodes of mental illness, the family would call a crisis center for help and emergency personnel would respond and take Said to a psychiatric hospital.

The family moved to Johns Creek last summer and Said had not had a mental health crisis while in the city, Awad said. The sisters, one of whom shared a home with Said and another who lived in the neighborhood, described what happened Saturday morning.

When Said woke up about 6 a.m., she told her live-in sister that she heard voices and had to get out of the house. Said grabbed a set of keys, but not the correct ones to start the car. As she headed toward the garage door, Said took a knife from the kitchen. She didn't want anyone to try to stop her from leaving, the family told Awad.

Said's sister called 911 expecting help for her mentally ill sister who was off her medication, Awad said.

In the time it took for Said to walk out of the garage, into the dead end of the cul-de-sac and turn to exit the neighborhood, at least four Johns Creek police officers, two ambulances and two fire trucks were on the scene with both Said's sisters, Awad said.

Police first tried non-lethal options of a Tazer stun gun and rubber bullets, but Said did not drop the knife.

"To expect a mentally ill person to respond to commands is illogical," Awad said. "And the police officers knew that."

Two officers shot Said at the intersection of Abbotts Bridge and Sweet Creek roads, GBI spokesman Bahan Rich said. Said was pronounced dead at Emory Johns Creek Hospital.

"We don't know if one officer fired four times and the other officer fired once," Awad said. "We just know there are a total of five shell casings that were found."

Edward Ahmed Mitchell, a spokesman with the Georgia chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said Said’s sisters had called for help out of love for their family member, not fear. They explained the mental health situation and said their sister was wearing a long dress, which Awad said would make it difficult for her to run from police.

"You cannot tell someone who is mentally ill, ‘We’re going to taze you, we’re going to pepper spray you,’ and if you actually do it, it doesn’t help," Mitchell said. "She was one woman, alone, 5-foot-5 and weighed less than 150 pounds. (She was) on the street by herself, not posing an immediate threat to anybody."

The entire incident took less than 15 minutes, police told Awad.

Because the details of what happened immediately before the shooting have not yet been released by the GBI, Awad's law firm is not pre-judging the officer's actions.

Awad said he has a great deal of respect for the officers who put their lives on the line by entering dangerous and unknown situations every day.

"In this particular case, it's very different," Awad said. "Officers knew what to expect. Ambulances knew what to expect. Firetrucks knew what to expect. So that element of danger is not there with this case."

De-esaclation techniques should have been used to subdue Said, Awad said, because they knew she was ill and not necessarily defiant.

"This is a sick person. This is a person that needs help," Awad said. "Sure, she has a knife. They knew that. She's mentally unstable. They knew that. The engagement should be very different."

The GBI will focus its investigation on whether the officers' shooting was justified in the context of the shooting, specifically whether the woman posed a lethal threat. Lawyers for Said's family will look into what types of training officers had and whether changes in policy could prevent another similar incident.