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Henrico Police Shooting of Allen Skeens: Fundraising for FOIA Documents

Trigger warning: violence, police brutality against “mentally ill”, discussion of psychiatric diagnosis/”bipolar disorder”, guns and shooting

Allen Skeens, a Henrico, VA resident, was shot in the torso on a destruction of property call to Henrico Police Department on April 26, 2012. Allen was unarmed.

Mind(ful) Liberation Project believes that HPD did not follow their training in “handling the mentally ill,” so we have decided to investigate. We have put in a Freedom of Information Act request to receive these police training manuals. We received word back on May 16th that the documents are available for us to pick up, and were informed that we must pay HPD $313 for the documents to cover labor and printing costs.

We are taking donations so that we can advocate for better treatment of individuals with mental health concerns. To donate, click on the “donate” button on the right of this page, or visit our “Donate” page.

The story behind the break is difficult to read. We encourage folks to take caution when reading.

This story is from The Richmond Times-Dispatch. Please visit their article to show your support. We have copied and pasted the article below in case something happens to the original on the RTD website.

By: BILL MCKELWAY | Richmond Times-Dispatch
Published: May 19, 2012

He battered his bass guitar against the pine tree outside the town house. Window glass shattered, doors slammed and splintered. In the parking lot across the lawn, his aunt’s Geo Prism sedan looked like it had been through a demolition derby.

“He was slamming a tabletop or something on the hood and he broke through the windshield with his amp,” recalled Dennis Pulling, a neighbor, who watched the display of rage April 26 from his home next door. He ventured outside to confront his occasional fishing buddy, Roger Allen Skeens.

“He was just out of his mind. I told him, ‘Hey, stop. I got my little girl inside; you’re scaring her,’ ” Pulling recalled. “But he just stared at me and said, ‘I’m not doing nothing wrong.’ ”

About 30 minutes later, Skeens collapsed to the ground, shot in the stomach by a Henrico County police officer. Now, more than three weeks later, the officer’s use of force against an apparently unarmed Skeens is receiving intense scrutiny and is raising new questions about conflicts between mentally ill people and area police.

* * * * * Kathy Burton had retreated to safety blocks away to call 911; Skeens, the nephew she’d struggled with and raised since early childhood, had run her out of their two-story apartment on Three Chopt Road as the terror began. Gary Crawford, Burton’s longtime companion, said Skeens has a long history of mental problems, suicide threats and dealings with police and Henrico mental health workers.

“He’s never really been able to live out on his own,” said Crawford, who was at work that April day during the outburst.

Henrico police arrived sometime after 3 p.m. Skeens, who is 20 years old and weighs 117 pounds, waited amidst the destruction he’d wrought.

Skeens was wearing gloves at the end of his straw-thin arms, which he held out from his sides as he moved toward two officers, one about 30 feet to his right and one straight ahead, also about 30 feet away.

“Go ahead, shoot. Kill me. Kill me!” he shouted, according to Pulling, ignoring repeated orders to hit the ground. “Make it easy for me.”

Neighbors heard a single shot from police and watched Skeens crumple to the blacktop near his aunt’s car. He was rushed to VCU Medical Center, where he is still recovering..

Forensics experts began marking off the parking lot and measuring relevant distances.

“Late that night, they washed the blood away with a fire hose,” Pulling said, noting that neighbors were fully aware that Skeens had been fighting long-term mental health issues and was sometimes subject to erratic behavior.

“He is a good person and was very sweet with my girlfriend’s little girl whenever he’d come over,” Pulling said. “But he could get upset sometimes, too.”

* * * * *The gunshot that ripped into Skeens ricocheted inside his midsection, tearing through critical organs, according to people who have had the injuries described to them.

He is expected to recover, barring the onset of infection, but his long-term prognosis appears uncertain. Skeens’ immediate family has declined to comment.

On another front, Henrico police are conducting dual investigations into the shooting: one to determine if the shooting was justified, and another by the department’s internal affairs office that will determine whether police violated department guidelines in the shooting.

Police have offered few details. Nor have they made public whether any officers were equipped with Tasers or had in their possession Mace or pepper spray that they could have used to subdue Skeens.

Henrico police Maj. John Bolling said that an effort has been under way for months to equip all officers with modern Tasers, an effort that could take two more years. He declined to comment on the Skeens case.

Police also will not say whether the officer who shot Skeens fired on his own volition or accidentally, or exactly how close Skeens came to the officers involved, a critical factor in determining when he may have represented a threat. Police said they will not respond to most questions because investigations are ongoing. The officer who fired the shot is on administrative leave.

Police initially reported to media that “shots” were fired after a struggle during attempts to take Skeens into custody. But later in the day, police said a struggle did not occur, and that a single shot was fired “by one of the two officers on the scene.”

Pulling and another witness said as much as a half-hour may have elapsed between the time police arrived and the shooting. At least a dozen officers were present when the shooting occurred, Pulling said, although some were as much as a block from the incident.

Henrico Commonwealth’s Attorney Shannon Taylor said she is purposely avoiding news accounts of the incident to maintain objectivity, but she went to the crime scene that Thursday to familiarize herself with the surroundings.

“I’m going to let the professionals do their jobs,” she said, vowing confidence in the ability of Henrico police to investigate the shooting by one of their own officers. Taylor will be responsible for reviewing a police report into the incident and will decide whether the matter should be referred to a special prosecutor.

“I think it is important that the public understands what happens in these incidents,” Taylor said, promising openness about the situation once facts in the case are more clear.

* * * * *Court records and interviews with people familiar with Skeens indicate he was taking medications for bipolar disorder, a condition typified by broad mood swings.

Skeens graduated in 2010 from Douglas Freeman High School but attended schools earlier in life for special-needs children. Court documents show that he was receiving federal assistance for his disabilities, and he had been under the care of mental health workers in Henrico before he turned 18.

Skeens describes himself on his Facebook page as a student at Vampire University (“blood alchemist and neck biter”) and draws a favorite quote, inaccurately, from the movie “G.I. Jane”: “Pain is you friend. Pain is not your enemy. If your feeling pain it means your alive.”

The morning of the shooting, Skeens had been in Henrico Circuit Court on a felony charge of embezzling money last year from the Walmart near his home. He worked there as a cashier.

Arrested in October in connection with the theft of about $3,200, Skeens was released from custody and indicted by a grand jury in March. Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert Cerullo said Skeens has been found competent to stand trial, and that a trial date is now set for June.

Skeens was hoping to make full restitution for the Walmart losses before the trial, Cerullo said. It was uncertain whether Skeens will recover sufficiently to make his June court date, and Taylor stressed that the shooting incident will have no bearing on the disposition of the embezzlement case.

Another matter looming over the Skeens shooting case is the growing scrutiny by mental health workers, affected families and enforcement agencies of police-involved shootings, especially in cases involving a mentally ill person.

Henrico began focusing on Crisis Intervention Training four years ago and is regarded as one of the best-trained police forces in the state in techniques to diffuse confrontations involving a mentally ill person.

In September, Henrico was recognized by an international group of CIT specialists for its training program in CIT issues.

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