Group home manager: Cop who shot double amputee was caught off guard

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by Jeff McShan / KHOU 11 News

khou.com

Posted on September 25, 2012 at 11:38 PM

Updated Wednesday, Sep 26 at 10:24 AM

HOUSTON – Houston police officers may have been unprepared for a confrontation at a group home Saturday that left a double amputee dead.  

John Garcia helps run the group home where Brian Claunch was shot and killed by police.

He said the manager on duty when the incident occurred called 911 to report that 45-year-old Claunch was out of control and threatening others.

“He was trying to talk to the dispatcher to tell them something was happening in the house,” said Garcia.

He said he was also trying to tell the operator that the person causing the disturbance was a mental health patient, but something went wrong.

“He tried to explain to 911, he tried to tell the person he was mentally ill and they couldn’t hear each other. Even though he was trying, there was too much static on the line. So he would say, ‘I can’t hear you,’ and they would say, ‘I can’t hear you,’” Garcia said.

Garcia said the manager was using a cordless phone.

When officers arrived, Claunch had an object in his hand and ignored the officers’ repeated commands to drop it, according to HPD. When he cornered one of the officers in his wheelchair and tried to stab him with the object, Officer Matthew Marin shot and killed Claunch.

That’s when they they discovered the object Claunch had was a silver pen.

KHOU 11 News has requested copies of the 911 tapes, but so far that request has been denied. But if Garcia’s story is accurate, it could explain one reason why officers from HPD’s Mental Health Squad were not sent to the scene first.

The nationally-recognized unit is small, but each officer is accompanied by a mental health clinician and all are specially trained. The unit has been a huge success for HPD and has kept many patients out of jail. 

Garcia said he loved Claunch, but realized he had issues that were sometimes difficult to handle.

“I’m not saying he would hurt the police, but Brian was very strong and he was very agile. He was fast. He could spin that wheelchair around like kids on a bicycle,” said Garcia.

Investigators working for the police union were at the house on Tuesday gathering facts for union attorneys who will likely get involved in this case.

The FBI has also joined the investigation.

 

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