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Questions surround officer-involved shooting of amputee

Monday, September 24, 2012

A mentally ill double amputee was shot and killed by a Houston police officer this weekend after he refused to drop a pen.

Officer M. Marin pulled the trigger, authorities said. He claims he did not have a choice, but some are questioning how Houston Police Department officers are trained.

Neighbors across the street were getting ready to go to bed when they saw several police cars arrive at the Healing Hands group home on Polk near downtown Houston.

Police say they were responding to a disturbance at Healing Hands, where several men with mental illnesses live with a caretaker.

Brian Claunch was the man at the center of the call for help. The caretaker said the wheelchair-bound double amputee was aggressive because he wanted soda and cigarettes.

When Marin and his partner went inside the home, HPD says Claunch cornered one officer with his wheelchair, disobeyed commands and was waving a shiny object.

Police say the officer feared for his life and his partner's, so he shot Claunch -- a response some are questioning.

Police now say the object Claunch was holding was a ballpoint pen.

Questions about why the officer didn't use a Taser will be part of the investigation, HPD spokesperson Kese Smith said.

Smith added that all cadets are required to take crisis intervention training, but it's unclear if Marin entered the academy before or after that was put into place.

The caretaker at the group home did not want to talk Sunday night. It was back to the dark, quiet neighborhood many are used to.

We learned that Marin shot and killed another suspect back in October 2009. Police say the suspect lunged at him with a knife.

Marin has been with the force for five years. As is standard in all officer-involved shootings, he was immediately placed on three-day administrative leave.

This shooting, like all officer-involved shootings, will be investigated by the homicide division, the internal affairs division and the Harris County District Attorney's Office.
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Houston Chief of Police Charles McClelland issued the following statement:

    "On Saturday, September 22, 2012, officers from the Houston Police Department responded to a call for service involving a disturbance with a violent person at 4309 Polk Street. During the response to the incident, an officer discharged his firearm resulting in the death of a citizen, Brian C. Claunch.

    The Houston Police Department places the highest value on human life and events like these are tragic and unfortunate for everyone involved. All Houston Police Officers receive mandatory crisis intervention training specifically dealing with persons experiencing mental crisis. As we do in all instances of this nature, the Houston Police Department's Homicide and Internal Affairs Divisions, and the Harris County District Attorneys Office, Civil Rights Division, are investigating this incident.

    In addition, I have also asked the local office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to monitor and investigate this incident. 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.

    It is my desire to have everyone reserve judgment until all the facts and evidence in this investigation have been gathered."


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Mayor Annise Parker also issued a statement on Monday:
    "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."

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houston police department, local, christine dobbyn
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