Esteban Parra - Delaware Online
Brandon Roberts was having a mental breakdown when he called 911 on Jan. 5.
Minutes later, he was shot dead by Milford Police.
Attorneys representing his fiancée are asking if Milford Police officers are trained in de-escalation techniques that could have helped Roberts go from a state of high anxiety to one of reduced tension.
"Why is something like this happening?" said attorney Thomas S. Neuberger, whose Wilmington law firm is representing Erica Jones. "Are these people not trained in any of the de-escalation techniques?"
Milford Police did not comment for this story.
At Milford's request, the police-involved shooting is being investigated by Delaware State Police.
On Jan. 6, state police issued a press release saying Roberts' shooting occurred the day before at about 6:20 p.m., when Milford officers were dispatched to the Silver Lake Estates Apartments for a report of a domestic incident involving weapons.
As the officers arrived at the apartment, Roberts "came out of the apartment and into the hallway, advancing at police officers while brandishing a large knife," the release said. Both police officers reacted to the threat by shooting the suspect with their departmental issued handguns, according to the release.
"The suspect became incapacitated and the officers immediately issued first aid to the suspect," the press release stated. "The suspect was transported to the Bayhealth Sussex Campus where he was pronounced deceased."
According to Neuberger, Roberts suffered from bipolar disorder, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Usually Roberts was fine, but on that day he did not take his medication and while at his fiancée's apartment he began acting up.
While there, Roberts called 911 and began saying all sorts of things, including that there was an ongoing domestic dispute at the apartment and that there was a gun.
Jones wrestled the phone away and told 911 operators that Roberts was having a mental breakdown, adding that his claim about a gun was false, Neuberger said.
Jones also told operators there was a child in the apartment unit, according to Neuberger. Roberts and Jones have a 1-year-old son and she is five months pregnant with their second child.
The News Journal has requested a copy of the 911 call.
Interviews with Jones and other residents of the apartment unit offered a slightly different version of events than what state police provided.
For example, they said Milford officers arrived on the scene and made their way up to the apartment's second floor, where they loudly banged on the door. The state police release did not mention going to the second floor or knocking.
"They're banging on the door like it's a drug bust," said Neuberger, who added that Roberts was carrying a knife as he left the kitchen and went and opened the door.
Jones, who was in the back of the apartment holding their child, said she heard officers order Roberts to put his arms up before they opened fire, Neuberger said. The state police press release said Roberts "came out of the apartment and into the hallway, advancing at police officers while brandishing a large knife."
"She says he does not lunge," Neuberger said. "He doesn't have time to make any movement."
State police declined to comment about the different versions.
"The investigation continues to remain active and ongoing with only limited information being released in the press release at this time," state police Master Cpl. Melissa Jaffe said.
Officers trained in de-escalation techniques would have probably stepped back, Neuberger said.
"Instead all sorts of shooting breaks out," he said.
Photos provided to The News Journal show bullet damage, including right above the entrance door to the apartment building and another bullet hole in the apartment unit that pierced a couch, then a wall and exited in the child's toy room.
Neuberger said Roberts' shooting is reminiscent of the fatal Wilmington Police-involved shootings of Jeremy "Bam" McDole in 2015 and Derek Hale in 2006.
Hale, a 25-year-old former Marine, and member of the Pagans Motorcycle Club from Virginia, was sitting on the steps of the Wilmington home of another Pagan when police surrounded him and stunned him with Taser guns before fatally shooting him.
McDole, a 28-year-old man in a wheelchair, was shot about two seconds after initially being ordered by police to put his hands up. The initial shooting created an uncertainty among other officers who, not knowing where the gunfire came from, also fired on McDole.
Officers involved in both incidents were cleared of any wrongdoing.
Both of those cases, in which Wilmington ended up settling, could have been non-fatal if police had been trained with proper de-escalation techniques, Neuberger said.
After the McDole shooting, state authorities called for reforms in training procedures to include de-escalation techniques, which would include procedures such as taking cover, standing back, waiting for other officers to arrive or using a beanbag gun rather than a shotgun.
Former Attorney General Matt Denn issued a report suggesting Wilmington Police review use-of-force policies that had been adopted by Seattle and Cleveland police departments.
Contact Esteban Parra at (302) 324-2299, firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @eparra3.