By: Brian D. Crecente
Paul Childs’ family called the police emergency line 50 times in the past 3 1/2 years, sometimes asking officers to help them deal with the developmentally disabled teen, police records show.
The last 911 call from the home came July 5 at 1:11 p.m. and 20 seconds.
As family members had done at least nine times in the past, they were calling to ask police to help with Paul Childs. But this time the call ended with his death.
The Rev. Michael Thompson, Paul Childs’ uncle, said Friday the family would call the police because they considered officers as friends. Whenever Paul got out of hand, Thompson said, they felt they were calling “Paul’s friend.”
The Childs family never imagined that a police officer would shoot him.
Thompson also said that the family believes James Turney, the police officer who shot Paul, had been to the house at least once.
But it couldn’t be determined from police reports and wasn’t confirmed by police officials whether Turney had ever been there.
“Something is missing, something is lacking,” said the Rev. Patrick Demmer, who has been helping the family since the shooting. “We can’t just blame police. We have to take some of the responsibility and say, ‘Where were we 50 times? Where were we at?'”
Family members have said they called the police July 5 to help the 15-year-old boy, who was threatening the family with a knife.
There were several other instances in which family members called 911 to get police to talk to the boy, according to dispatch records.
For instance, on July 24, 1999, Childs’ mother called 911 saying her son had been caught stealing and that she had made him take the things back to the store.
She asked the 911 operator to send an officer to the home to explain why stealing was wrong. An officer was dispatched.
“He loved and trusted them,” his mother, Helen, said of the police two days after the fatal shooting.
On other occasions, she asked police to talk to him about calling 911 and hanging up, and to take him to social services because he was trying to run away.
Since January 1999, family members called police six times to report that Childs had run away.
Demmer says the family didn’t realize the type of response they would get July 5 when they called for help.
On the 911 dispatch tape from the fatal shooting, Paul Childs’ sister can be heard calmly saying that her brother was threatening their mother with a knife and that he had hit their mother in the past.
Responding officers were apparently told that Childs’ address had been the scene of previous calls for domestic violence and family disturbances.
When officers arrived, they ordered everyone out of the home.
Relatives have said that Turney had his foot inside the screen door and that Childs stood in a hallway holding a knife close to his chest when the officer opened fire.
Childs was shot four times.
At least three other officers were in front of the home when the shooting occurred.
Two of them had Tasers, a device used to stun suspects from a distance without causing permanent injury, and the other officer was trained in crisis intervention. But the less-lethal weapons were not used.
Although Police Chief Gerry Whitman declined to discuss details of the case, he said that in general the use of less-lethal weapons depends on the situation.
“To implement any of these strategies you need time and distance to be able to choose your reactions,” he said. “When the time gets short and something explodes in front of you, you have to react.
“Sometimes momentum is not on our side,” he said.
The killing of Childs, an East High School student, has outraged the neighborhood, and community activists are calling for an independent investigation.
Demmer wonders why the call for help ended in a shooting, despite the fact police knew they were going to a home to which
they often responded.
“To say that police went there 50 times – 50 times in three years – you know you are not dealing with something normal,” Demmer said.
“A greater sense of sensitivity should have been in the hearts of the police officers going there,” Demmer said. “That’s the danger of calling the police. The police are not the ones to call for all of these situations.
“Something is wrong when a crisis situation like this occurs and the only option this poor mother has, a single mother, the first recourse they have is to call the police.”
Demmer’s church, the Graham Memorial Church of God in Christ, is three blocks from where the shooting took place.
He recalled that when his two teenage nephews were getting into trouble and fighting a lot, his sister called him and his brother for help.
“If one had grabbed a knife, she wouldn’t have called police, she would have called us,” he said. “We would have come over, then put our nephews in check.”
Demmer said that although he feels the police overreacted, the shooting is as much an indictment of society and the community.
“There is a tremendous problem that has not been addressed by the family or society,” he said. “It’s an indictment on the community that we are somehow not there – that the family is having this sort of problem.”
This article originally appeared on July 13, 2003 in the Rocky Mountain News.
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