Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe has cleared two St. Petersburg police officers in a March shooting where they killed a man who approached them wielding a pair of scissors.
But McCabe also said the March 10 police shooting illustrated the importance of having officers undergo specialized training to deal with mentally ill people without killing them, according to a letter he wrote Wednesday to St. Petersburg Police Chief Chuck Harmon.
The man who died, 43-year-old Arthur Dixon, had suffered brain trauma and was threatening suicide the evening of his death.
“Although the use of deadly force in this case was clearly justified, the circumstances surrounding the incident yet again demonstrate why it is important that as many officers as possible receive Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) to hopefully avoid the need to use deadly force without comprising the safety of our law enforcement officers,” McCabe said in his letter.
Dixon’s mother, Lydia Andrews, a registered nurse, agrees. Had the officers been sufficiently trained, they would not have shot her son, she said.
“When someone’s depressed and they want to commit suicide, you’re not supposed to do it for them,” she said.
On March 10, Officers Devin Jones and Curtis Wright killed Dixon following a standoff at the house where he had been living with his mother, at 5411 Fourth Ave. N.
Dixon had just been released from prison, had a history of mental issues and was suicidal, threatening to jump off the Sunshine Skyway to “end it all,” according to McCabe’s letter. He was blind in one eye and had trouble moving his right leg, the result of a back injury, Andrews told authorities.
On the day of the shooting, Andrews was moving out of the house. Dixon got upset after he was unable to find all of his belongings at a storage unit during the move and at one point started pounding his fists on the dashboard of the vehicle they were in. So Andrews told him to get out of the vehicle.
Andrews later returned to the house with a friend to retrieve her remaining belongings and found her son in the kitchen smoking a cigarette, with gasoline poured on the kitchen floor, McCabe’s letter said. Andrews asked her friend to call 911 because she thought her son was going to burn down the house, with him in it, according to McCabe’s letter.
Here’s what happened next, according to McCabe’s investigation:
After authorities cut the electricity at the house, Dixon began punching a window with scissors, yelling ‘Kill me, kill me.” When an officer asked him from outside if there was any way to resolve the situation, Dixon told the officer to shoot him.
“If you come in here, I’ll kill you,” Dixon told the officer. “I’ll stab you in the brain with these scissors.”
Shortly after, Dixon went out the back of the house, holding the scissors in his right hand. Jones and Wright were there.
“Come here, come here,” Dixon told the officers.
Wright told him to stop. “Stop, don’t move, drop the scissors.”
Dixon kept coming, though.
Jones and Wright stood side-by-side, their guns trained on Dixon, and were backing up toward an alley. Dixon kept walking toward them, holding the scissors.
“Come here, come here,” he kept repeating.
The officers told him, again and again, to drop the scissors and that they would shoot if he didn’t stop.
When Dixon was four or five feet away, Wright fired once, Jones two times. Dixon collapsed, dropping the scissors as he fell. The scissors were 10 inches long with a five-inch blade.
All three bullets hit Dixon, an autopsy showed. His blood-alcohol level was 0.22 nearly three times the level where a Florida driver is presumed intoxicated.
Although Wright and Jones were armed with stun guns, they were told not to use them because they might ignite the gasoline on Dixon’s clothing.
Dixon’s mother said she called 911 so paramedics could take her son to the psychiatric ward at St. Anthony’s Hospital.
Her son’s physical condition drunk, with a bad leg and partially blind - was such that the officers, had they been trained in crisis intervention, would have been able to subdue him with just their hands and without resorting to lethal force, Andrews said. She knows because she saw such training, usually used for brain trauma victims, as a nursing supervisor in Connecticut.
“Even if they have a knife or scissors, it’s easy to take them down physically,” Andrews said.
A sergeant at the scene had taken a 40-hour crisis intervention training course, and the two officers who shot Dixon had undergone less-intense training on how to deal with the mentally ill, St. Petersburg police spokesman Mike Puetz said. The pair took a refresher course in 2011, in accordance with departmental policy.
Neither has a serious disciplinary history, Puetz said. They remain on administrative leave pending the outcome of an internal affairs investigation.
Dixon was released from prison in February after serving a sentence of slightly more than two years, according to the Florida Department of Corrections. He had been convicted of robbery with a deadly weapon and resisting a police officer with violence.
In that case, he walked into a St. Petersburg Walgreen’s carrying a baseball bat and an axe, grabbed an 18-pack of Natural Ice beer, then walked out, according to a police report.