Community activists demanded answers and an investigation Monday after an officer shot and killed a double-amputee in a wheelchair.
According to Houston police, an officer responded to a domestic disturbance complaint at a group home on Polk and Sidney in southwest Houston around 1:30 a.m. Saturday. Police said the person in charge of the home said the man inside, Brian Claunch, 45, who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, was threatening other residents.
"When officers arrived and went inside to speak to him, he was situated in a wheelchair holding an unknown object," said Jodi Silva with the Houston Police Department.
Claunch was in a wheelchair because he had lost his right arm and leg in a train accident.
The officers said Claunch was swinging the shiny object in a threatening manner towards them and the residents. Investigators said the officers told Claunch to drop the object, but he refused. Detectives said Claunch backed an officer into a corner and tried to stab the officer with the object.
Police said five-year veteran Matthew Marin then fired his gun at Claunch, shooting him in the head.
Officials with the Houston Police Department said the object Claunch was wielding turned out to be a shiny ballpoint pen.
"It's tight quarters in there, and he was able to corner the officer back into the corner of the room," said Silva.
Claunch was pronounced dead at the scene.
"He could be nice, but he could also get very angry very quickly," said John Garcia of Healing Hands, the home where Claunch lived. "For having a missing arm and a missing leg, he was pretty strong and he was pretty agile."
Homicide detectives as well as Internal Affairs are investigating the case. Marin will work three days of desk duty. Houston police records indicate that Marin also fatally shot a suspect in 2009. Investigators at the time said Marin came upon a man stabbing his neighbor to death at an apartment complex and opened fired when the suspect refused to drop the knife.
The Greater Houston Coalition for Justice is calling on U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to launch a full investigation of "patterns and practices of civil rights violations by the Houston Police Department against minorities and others." The Texas Civil Rights Project has also demanded an open investigation.
"This killing is very disturbing," TCRP director and attorney Amin Alehashem said. "HPD has not explained how or why two officers responding to a routine call came to feel threatened by a by a man in a wheelchair with two limbs and a pen. There are far too many questions left unanswered today for the public to blindly accept HPD's assurances that the shooting of this man in a wheelchair was justified."
"The Houston Police Department places the highest value on human life and events like these are tragic and unfortunate for everyone involved," Police Chief Charles McClelland said. "All Houston Police officers receive mandatory crisis intervention training specifically dealing with persons experiencing mental crisis."
McClelland said HPD's Homicide and Internal Affairs division, the Harris County District Attorney's Office's Civil Rights Division and the FBI are investigating the shooting.
"As I have done throughout my tenure as police chief, to the extent I can, the Houston Police Department will be open and transparent in all aspects of our response to this tragic event," McClelland said. "It is my desire to have everyone reserve judgment until all the facts and evidence in this investigation have been gathered."
Houston Mayor Annise Parker released a statement about the shooting.
"I want to express my condolences to Mr. Claunch's family and friends. As for any comment on the circumstances, there is a process in place to determine if the officer acted appropriately. In addition to the usual internal review, Chief McClelland has taken the additional step of asking the local office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) within the U.S. Department of Justice to monitor our investigation of this incident. Until the facts are in place, it is premature to draw any conclusions. I have utmost respect for the very difficult job of our Houston Police Department. However, if there were mistakes made, I know the police chief will take appropriate action," Parker said.
Claunch had a criminal record including possession, trespassing, auto theft and resisting arrest.