The mother of Travis Jordan, a man shot dead by Minneapolis police during a mental health episode in 2018, has sued the city and the two officers involved, saying that they should have done more to prevent the fatal outcome.
Florine Ching argued that officers Neal Walsh and Ryan Keyes didn't try to de-escalate the situation and that they should have waited for another officer with a Taser to arrive before the shooting that claimed her son's life. Ching's suit, which seeks unspecified damages, was filed in U.S. District Court on Monday — nearly three years to the day of Jordan's death.
When reached on Wednesday, Ching's attorney, Paul Bosman, declined to comment on the suit. But in a lengthy post on his public Facebook page, he wrote that the case illustrates the need for police to examine their policies on deadly force and the handling of mental health calls.
"[A] plea to cops: If you respond to a call with a possibly suicidal person who throws a note out before walking toward you with a knife at his side, that person is probably not trying to kill you, but trying to get you to kill him. Don't let him win. Find a way to get him help instead," he wrote.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman declined to file charges, saying at the time that based on his review of the evidence Jordan "presented a real danger to the officers."
The City Attorney's Office didn't immediately respond to a request for comment through a spokesman on Wednesday, and Minneapolis police spokesman Garrett Parten said that the department doesn't comment on pending litigation.
The lawsuit says that on the afternoon of Nov. 9, 2018, Jordan sent his girlfriend a music video about suicide and said he was "thinking of doing this at my mother's house" in Waseca, Minn. Concerned because Jordan had previously suffered from bouts of anxiety and manic depression after a previous accident, Vang first called a health care professional she knew for advice and then called 311, the suit says. She was later transferred to a 911 dispatcher and asked that someone go over to check on Jordan, 36, who was home alone.
Keyes and Walsh responded to the call and had a brief exchange with Jordan, who eventually came out of the house in the 3700 block of N. Morgan Avenue. He was armed with a 13½-inch Chefmate knife and refused orders to drop the weapon, the filings said.
Body camera footage showed Keyes and Walsh pleading with him to drop the knife before he walked toward them and they shot him eight times. He died later at an area hospital.
But in her lawsuit, Ching maintained that the officers ignored their department training on defusing such situations, which would have told them to call someone in crisis by their name to establish "rapport and trust" or seek cover behind a nearby parked car to create distance between themselves and Jordan.
"In fact, they escalated the situation with their demands to come outside and conflicting orders once Travis appeared in the doorway of his home," the suit read. "Less than one minute elapsed between Keyes' demand for Travis to come out of the house from the side yard and the shooting."
And because neither officer was carrying a Taser, they could have waited for the arrival of a park police officer who had one of the less-lethal devices, the suit argued. The officers, Ching argued, should've known that Jordan was "suffering from a disability of depression with suicidal ideation" based on the dispatcher's notes and should have taken that into account when they encountered him.
"Travis was entitled to reasonable policing services as any non-disabled member of Minneapolis," the lawsuit said.
The shooting came amid a national debate involving when and how police officers use force against the mentally ill, and it renewed calls locally for better police responses to people in crisis. Some of those efforts culminated with the passage of a state bill this year, called Travis' Law, that would require 911 operators to refer mental health calls to mobile crisis teams "where available."
Bosman also represented Jordan's girlfriend, Taren Vang, and friend Paul Johnson — Jordan's former roommate who recently ran for mayor and lost — in a lawsuit earlier this year against the city over Jordan's death. The pair settled the matter out of court for $15,000 and a promise by the city to train every officer on how to better treat witnesses, Bosman said.
The case resurfaced after the killing of George Floyd last year, after which activists called for an end to the city's reliance on police for emergencies that don't necessarily require an armed response. Earlier this year, city officials launched a new crisis response pilot program to handle certain mental health emergencies without police, a move that lawmakers and advocates hope will lead to better outcomes for people in crisis.
Officers still will respond to some mental health-related emergencies, for instance those involving a weapon, but the new mobile response teams will be dispatched to many behavioral health calls. The program, operated by Richfield-based Canopy Mental Health & Consulting, features mental health professionals in two-person teams who will always be on call. After some delay, the first teams are expected to hit city streets in the coming weeks.
Libor Jany • 612-673-4064 Twitter: @StribJany