The mother of a black man fatally shot by Boston police filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday accusing the city of failing to properly train officers on how to deal with people with mental illnesses.
Terrence Coleman, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia, was killed in 2016 after his mother called for an ambulance to take him to the hospital. Police and prosecutors say he attacked emergency medical technicians with a large knife, but his mother denies her son was armed or posed any danger.
Boston police and EMS didn't immediately respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.
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Hope Coleman said Wednesday that she never could have imagined that calling for medical help would have ended "with police shooting and killing your only son."
"I was just trying to help my son," she said through sobs at her lawyers' office. "I brought him into the world. The police shouldn't have took him out."
The lawsuit says Hope Coleman became concerned about her 31-year-old son because he refused to come inside from the apartment building's front stoop.
She said she told the 911 operator she didn't want police because she worried that would agitate her son, but the operator said it was the policy for officers to accompany EMTs.
The lawsuit says Terrence Coleman, who had gone inside the apartment by the time EMTs arrived, became upset when he saw blue flashing lights and told them he didn't want to go to the hospital, but the EMTs insisted he come with them and tried to grab him. It says the officers burst through the door when they heard a scuffle, tackled the man and shot him.
Suffolk District Attorney Daniel Conley said in August that Officer Garrett Boyle's use of deadly force was justified because the lives of officers and emergency medical technicians were in danger. Conley said Terrence Coleman had pulled a 5-inch knife from a bag and attacked the EMTs who were trying to help him and then began slashing at the officers who came to their assistance.
The lawsuit says a knife was recovered from inside the apartment while the officers and EMTs said Terrence Coleman had attacked them in the foyer outside the apartment.
The complaint says the city has flawed 911 protocols for responding to mentally ill people who need assistance. It also says the city does not adequately train officers on how to deal with people with mental illnesses and that the training programs that do exist "erroneously suggest that all persons who suffer from mental health disabilities are violent and dangerous."
Sophia Hall, an attorney for the mother, said they hope the lawsuit will propel policy changes in Boston and perhaps across the country.
"What we're seeking is not only justice for Hope and Terrence, but for some kind of system change," said Hall, with the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, which filed the lawsuit along with attorneys with Fick & Marx LLP.
Hope Coleman says her son's death has turned her life upside down. A cake she made for his birthday last month still sits uncut in her kitchen because she can't get herself to do it without him.
"I'm never going to be normal," she said.