University of Chicago students and faculty rallied on Thursday afternoon to protest actions by campus police and the availability of mental health services after a student allegedly suffering from a mental health crisis was shot as he approached an officer with a metal pipe.
Three officers from the University Police Department and two officers from the Chicago Police Department responded to calls of a burglary at approximately 10:12 p.m. Tuesday in the 5300 block of South Kimbark Avenue. A witness said 21-year-old Charles Thomas, a fourth-year student at the school, was yelling and smashing vehicles and apartment windows, reports ABC 7.
Body camera and police vehicle footage released Wednesday show Thomas wearing a mask, yellow gloves and wielding a metal pipe. An image of Thomas during the encounter is shown below:
Photo from the University of Chicago police vehicle’s camera.
A university police officer can be heard telling Thomas to drop the weapon as he continued to walk towards the officer, who is seen backing up.
Thomas then allegedly charged the officer, who fired one round, striking Thomas in the shoulder. Thomas was later taken to Northwestern Memorial Hospital to be treated for the gunshot wound and a broken shoulder blade.
The officer who shot Thomas has been on the school’s police force for two years and has undergone 40 hours of crisis training and mental health training, according to the university. He has been placed on administrative leave pending an internal investigation.
Student Suffered Mental Health Crisis, Parents Say
Thomas’ parents, Kathy and Wendell Thomas, say their son may have been in the midst of a mental crisis at the time of the incident.
“The voice he was using when he was yelling, I’ve never heard him use that voice. It was like it was coming from another place,” says Kathy Thomas.
Thomas’ parents say their son recently sought counseling from the university and was referred to services off-campus.
Kathy Thomas says she has been treated for bipolar disorder for decades and has been closely monitoring her son for symptoms.
“I have never seen him act that way. I have never seen anger like that,” continued Kathy. “He was under pressure trying to get his big bachelor’s thesis done, but this is beyond a stress break. He was saying things, according to his friends, that just did not make sense, which makes me think there’s definitely some psychological issues going on.”
Students, Faculty Protest Police Power, Available Mental Health Resources
Concerned students and faculty members took part in a rally on Thursday afternoon to demand reduced police powers and increased on-campus mental health services, reports The Chicago Tribune.
Tuesday’s shooting comes at the time of stepped-up vehicle and pedestrian stops by university police. An analysis by the Chicago Reporter claims these increased stops have disproportionately affected African-Americans. Thomas is of black and Asian ancestry.
Over the last six months, UCPD conducted an average of 17 field interviews per month, up from five to six per month in the first half of 2017. More than 72 percent of the stops so far this year were initiated by UCPD officers.
In the first three months of 2018, UCPD officers stopped 446 drivers, which is more than four times as many as the same period in 2017 and more than they stopped in all of 2016. Additionally, nearly three-quarters of the drivers stopped were African-American.
Alex Peltz, a 21-year-old student who lives in the same apartment building as Thomas, says the university needs to provide more resources to students suffering from mental health issues and improve officer training.
“This is a person in the midst of crisis, like a person who is having a heart attack, and our police officers were so afraid of this scary kid that they had to try to kill him,” Peltz says.
Four faculty members also published a letter in the campus newspaper calling for a discussion on campus police.
“This is a private police force, it’s the second largest in the state and it’s likely among the largest private police forces in the country,” wrote Reuben Jonathan Miller, an assistant professor in the School of Social Service Administration. “So the role of a private police force in the community is something that deserves to be interrogated: what role should they play?”
UCPD has more than 100 sworn officers and, in agreement with the City of Chicago, patrols a 3.5 square-mile area that houses 65,000 people. UCPD is also not subject to the same transparency and accountability as municipal departments since it is a private police force.
In addition to aggravated assault, Thomas has been charged with two counts of criminal damage and two misdemeanor counts of criminal damage. Thomas’ bond was set at $15,000, according to the Chicago Police Department.
Thomas’ attorney, Steven Goldman, says it was an isolated incident related to his client’s recent mental health issues. He also noted that Thomas did not damage police squad cars as he walked past them with the pipe and that he approached the officers because he was trying to exit the alley.
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