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HPD officer shoots, kills amputee in wheelchair

Saturday, September 22, 2012
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An amputee in a wheelchair was shot and killed by a Houston police officer Saturday at a group home for the mentally ill, and we've learned this is not the first time officer has fatally shot a suspect.

The Houston Police Department said Brian Claunch -- a one-armed, one-legged man in a wheelchair -- threatened Ofc. M. Marin and waved an object that later turned out to be a ballpoint pen.

The shooting happened just southeast of downtown Houston at the Healing Hands group home on Polk at Sidney.

"Officer Marin, in fear of the safety of his partner and the safety of himself, discharges his duty weapon striking the suspect," HPD spokesperson Jodi Silva said.

Silva told us police were called to Healing Hands around 2:30am. The overnight caretaker said Claunch was acting aggressively and repeatedly asking for soda and cigarettes.

Marin and his partner entered the home and Claunch kept swinging an object at them. After ignoring numerous requests to drop the object, police say Claunch cornered Marin's partner in the room.

"The officers made verbal commands for the suspect to drop whatever he had in his hand, to stay still and to speak with the officers, but the suspect continued to make threats," Silva said.

That's when Marin shot Claunch once in the head. He died at the scene. The object he was holding turned out to be pen.

Two other residents were inside the home at the time of the shooting and the caretaker was outside. They were all questioned.

The owner of the group home, John Garcia, said Claunch enjoyed drawing on paper.

"At the table, he would write on a pad of paper," he said. "He liked to doodle. He was always doodling on the table. He'd write there."

Garcia said Claunch lived in the house for about 18 months and was and schizophrenic and had bipolar disorder. He lost his arm and leg after being hit by a train years ago, he said.

According to Garcia, Claunch was capable of making a person feel threatened during a time of outrage, despite his physical state. He added that it's an everyday challenge taking care of those with severe mental illnesses.

"You just never know when they are going to go off," Garcia said. "That's all you can say. You just don't know. They can be very calm and then all of a sudden, within five minutes, it's a different dimension."

We called clinical psychologist Dr. Ed Reitman for his reaction.

"Emotionally disturbed individuals, when threatened, are going to react in most instances, excessively," Reitman said.

Reitman added that the mentally ill patient may not have understood the officer's request to put down the pen.

"This was an incident that didn't have to take place if the individual -- a police officer -- had been trained in dealing with emotionally disturbed individuals," Reitman said.

HPD has officers who are specially trained to deal with the mentally ill. Earlier this week, Mayor Annise Parker spoke about the merits of the program.

"They actually do case management with these folks," Parker said. "Instead of, at some point this person has been in the system -- I don't know what the trigger is; four times, five times over a certain period -- and it's clearly a mental health issue, the next time they pop up into the system, we send the mental health unit out there."

The department won't comment on whether Marin had been trained in that program.

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, Marin 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.

(Copyright ©2014 KTRK-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

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