9/13/2018, 6 a.m.
The death of a loved one is never easy.
The death of a loved one at the hands of police certainly is devastating.
So we can understand Princess Blanding’s crusade to find answers — and change — after the death of her brother, Marcus-David Peters, the 24-year-old high school biology teacher who was shot and killed by a Richmond Police officer in May.
Naked and unarmed, Mr. Peters apparently was suffering from some type of mental or drug episode when he ran onto Interstate 95, was struck by a car, bounced up and then threatened to kill the police officer before charging at him.
When Richmond Police Chief Alfred Durham publicly released the disturbing police body cam video and security tapes following the fatal shooting, we said at the time that criminally indicting the officer would not be justified based on our observation.
So we were not surprised by Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael N. Herring’s ruling on Aug. 31 that Officer Michael Nyantakyi was justified in shooting Mr. Peters and will not face any criminal charges.
“The use of deadly force was ... necessary given the unique circumstances,” according to Mr. Herring’s detailed, 17-page report.
The ruling, however, doesn’t take away the pain of this tragedy that both the Peters family and Officer Nyantakyi will have to live with for the rest of their lives.
What remains unresolved is how families and the community, including our public agencies such as the police, deal with mental illness.
Ms. Blanding insisted before the shooting that her brother was not taking drugs and had not shown any signs of mental illness before the May 14 crisis. However, the commonwealth’s attorney’s report and separate toxicology report showed that residue from unprescribed Ritalin, a drug used to treat attention deficit disorder, and THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, were found in Mr. Peters’ bloodstream.
According to the report, witnesses told investigators they had given Mr. Peters a bottle of generic Ritalin and another said Mr. Peters admitted taking the medicine. Evidence also was developed about Mr. Peters’ use of marijuana.
The report also stated that Mr. Peters’ family knew about and had expressed concern over his deteriorating mental health that, Mr. Herring said, “started one to two weeks before his death.”
One witness told authorities that the family gathered on Mother’s Day, the day before the shooting, “to express their concerns that he was ‘in over his head,’ ” Mr. Herring stated.
We know that families, particularly African-American families, have trouble acknowledging mental health issues exist and often shun the professional help and intervention that is critical for a restoration of wellness.
We hope the Peters family can come to terms with those issues and possibly use this experience to advocate for families to seek help before a crisis arises.
We also urge Chief Durham and city officials to use the Peters tragedy to thoroughly examine the city’s system of policing and to shore up the inadequate training for officers in dealing with people undergoing a mental health or drug crisis.
As we said in May when the police body cam video was released, it is clear the 40-hour crisis intervention training course that Richmond officers currently take is not enough. We call on Chief Durham, Mayor Levar M. Stoney and members of City Council to ensure — through policy and funding — that such critical training be held annually at a minimum to update and refresh officers on new interventions and techniques to handle the growing number of problems spawned by mental health issues and drug abuse.
We cannot bring Mr. Peters back to life. But as a community, we can learn from this tragedy and try to move forward with new skills to help prevent such fatal shootings in the future.