Update, March 21, 2017, 10:12 a.m EDT:
According to the Chico Enterprise-Record and Action News Now, Chico Police Department chief Mike O'Brien identified Alex Fliehr and Jeremy Gagnebin as the officers who fatally shot Desmond Phillips. Both officers were placed on paid administrative leave following the shooting.
On the evening of March 17*, two police officers in Chico, California, opened fire and killed Desmond Phillips, a 25-year-old Black man with a history of mental illness from previous head injuries.
Phillips’ father, David, called 911 around 7:15 p.m. PT after his son went into one of his “episodes,” he told Action News Now reporter AJ Abell in this Facebook video. He asked for the fire and medical units, but they requested back up after Desmond appeared “hostile,” said Chico Police Department Chief Mike O’Brien in a press conference March 18*, which can be seen in this video by local newspaper ChicoER.
The father explained to Action News Now that when his son would get into such states, he and the rest of the family—which, in this case, included his two grandchildren who were not identified as Desmond’s children—would shut themselves in their rooms. “I called , and I told them, I said, ‘You can come over here. He’s kicking the door,’ and he’s done that before,” David explained to the news network.
When the two police officers, who remain unidentified but are on paid administrative leave, arrived to the house, they say Desmond was seen “pacing in a small living room area … holding two knives,” O’Brien stated in the press conference. The officers did not succeed in calming Desmond down after attempting to verbally and claim that he then forced them out of the house, shutting the front door behind them.
Once outside, two officers allegedly received information, via another 911 call from David, that Desmond was attempting to break down the door of the room where his father was, so he could stab him, O’Brien says.
“Due to the now imminent threat to the father and to the two children inside the apartment that was posed by the armed subject,” O’Brien went on, “officers gained entry through the front door apartment in order to protect them.”
At that moment, Desmond was allegedly adjacent to the front door, “in very close proximity to the officers.” After one officer tazed Desmond, he began to “slash” at the officers. That is when they shot him and called medical units. Desmond later died at Enloe Medical Center.
His father says he heard at least seven shots. A witness who spoke to Action News Now says he heard at least 10 shots. Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey, also at the press conference, said the victim was shot multiple times but that a number can’t be released until after an autopsy.
Given that the department does not use body cameras, the officers’ statements cannot be confirmed. “No officer or other video evidence exists at this time,” O’Brien said. The Butte County District Attorney’s office immediately launched an investigation into the event, Ramsey said, where investigators are talking to witnesses and canvassing the neighborhood. The investigative team includes “seasoned investigators from all of the various law enforcement agencies in Butte County,” he said.
— Erica Traverso (@traversoerica1) March 20, 2017
Desmond’s brother, whose name is also David, wrote in a GoFundMe page launched in Desmond’s honor that Desmond was holding a butter knife. He also explains that his brother suffers from seizures, which cause “him to space out and [not] know what he’s doing.” So far, the family has raised $2,347.
Desmond is the 54th Black man to die at the hands of police this year, according to The Washington Post’s database. Mental illness played a role in one in five of the 2017 incidents, per the Post. Last year, Alfred Olango, 30, and Deborah Danner, 66, died after officers killed them during mental health episodes where family or neighbors requested aid.
*The post has been corrected to reflect that Desmond died March 17, not March 18, and the press conference was on March 18.