The Metro Nashville Police Department has released body camera footage from a shooting that injured a woman Friday who was threatening to kill herself.
The woman is in the hospital recovering. But the video underscores the challenges officers face when responding to mental health calls. It comes as the department looks to expand a partnership between police and professional crisis counselors.
Before police arrived at Melissa Wooden’s home on Friday evening, a dispatcher warned that Wooden wanted to harm herself.
“Be advised that she is saying that she wants the police to come so that they can shoot her,” the dispatcher said.
Wooden was tense when police found her in her yard. She was gripping a pickaxe and a baseball bat in her hands. Then she told the officers she was “about to go crazy” and that she didn’t want to talk.
But Officer Ben Williams quickly tried to calm her down.
“I understand. I hear what you’re saying,” he told Wooden. “But what happened? Did you take something today? Can you be honest with me?”
Wooden said she’d been drinking. Then she told the officer to go ahead and kill her. But Williams explained that he had no reason to pull his weapon, as long as he could keep his distance.
“Melissa. Nobody is going to kill you. No one is going to harm you,” he said, his voice picked up by his body camera. “You know how this ends. OK? We’re not doing this.”
Then the officer asked Wooden to put down her weapons.
“We’ve established that nobody here is gonna hurt you. OK? Look at me in my eyes and know that I’m telling you the truth,” Williams said. “None of us are gonna hurt you. OK? None of us are gonna kill you.”
Williams said he wanted to get Wooden some help. But by then, her mother had arrived on an electric scooter. She told officers that her daughter was a “good kid,” but that she was “messed up in the head.”
“Everything is delusional to her,” Wooden’s mother groaned, holding her head between her hands. She started toward her daughter and told Wooden that she was “going back to the hospital.”
That’s when Wooden pulled the axe and the bat behind her shoulder as if to strike, and Williams deployed his Taser. Wooden started moving toward him. Then, another officer fired.
The mood had changed so quickly. A calm conversation suddenly turned chaotic. And another officer at the scene with less experience ended up shooting his gun.
City launching new response team
This is the type of outcome the city hopes to avoid in the future.
The mayor’s office is announcing a $3 million grant for alternative policing strategies. That includes a crisis response team, which will send mental health providers alongside police to calls like this.
According to the Police Executive Research Forum, between 10% and 29% of shootings by police involve someone attempting to commit “suicide by cop.” Police reform advocates say crisis intervention teams with unarmed social workers and plainclothes officers can better de-escalate these types of situations.
But Scott Byrd, who leads the department’s training division, thinks a counselor would have taken a similar approach.
“Immediately they begin doing things to try and establish a rapport,” Byrd said of the officers. “They get to establishing and maintaining distance from her, so as to not get her further agitated than what she already was.”
After showing the body camera footage, Byrd told reporters at a press conference Monday that the department will review the incident — not just to see if everyone followed policy, but also to consider if changes should be made to how officers are trained.
“We’re always looking to evaluate how it is we can get to doing better,” he said.
In the meantime, both the TBI and Metro Nashville Community Oversight are conducting independent investigations, to determine if any laws or policies were broken.
Samantha Max is a Report for America corps member.