Jill Porter | 'Suicides by cop': Victims' only crime is being sick

WHEN HE WAS at his most desperate, mortally depressed and living on the street, Sean Kindig once considered "suicide by cop."

"I thought about getting a fake gun and walking up to a cop on a street corner and pulling it out," he said.

Now, many years later, Kindig, 46, is married, living in a "half-a- million-dollar house in South Philadelphia," and recovering from his crippling depression.

That's why he's devastated - and infuriated - that Charles Kelley never got the same chance.

Philadelphia police shot and killed Kelley on Sunday as the deranged 26-year-old man lunged at them with a knife, yelling, "Kill me! Kill me!" - an apparent case, say advocates for the mentally ill, of suicide by cop.

"The poor bastard that got killed could have been me," said Kindig, the South Philadelphia director of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill.

"Just because someone is mentally ill, it's not a license to kill."


Charles Kelley is one of three people shot by Philadelphia police in the past three weeks, a stunning development in and of itself.

But mental-health advocates say Kelley is also the seventh deranged person to be shot and killed by Philadelphia Police Department officers since 2000 - the year they began lobbying for special training so police could defuse such confrontations without deadly force.

That was the year Amtrak police shot and killed Robert Brown at 30th Street Station - seven months after Philadelphia police killed Harold Greenwald outside his Southwest Philadelphia home.

Both men were mentally ill, and advocates urged police to create a Crisis Intervention Team, based on an acclaimed program in Memphis, Tenn.

In a sad coincidence, the department will begin training its first CIT class next week for a pilot project. The 20 officers in the class will graduate Feb. 1.

"We spent years meeting with police, being stymied and stonewalled by [former Police Commissioner John Timoney] and everyone else," said Sister Mary Scullion of Project Home. "They did not want to deal with it."

"How many bodies later - now the first class is going to graduate."


The CIT program will be piloted in some of the city's most dangerous streets: the East Police Division, which includes North Philadelphia and Kensington.

About 100 officers will be trained so one of them will be available "no matter what shift, day or night," said Carolyn Ulmer, manager of acute services for the city's Department of Behavioral Health, which has worked with police and other agencies to develop the program.

Last month, 911 operators completed training to help them identify when an emergency call might involve someone who's mentally ill.

If so, a CIT officer would be among those sent to the scene and "take the lead role" in handling the incident, Ulmer said.

If the pilot succeeds, it will be expanded to the rest of the department.

According to the Memphis Police Web site, the program has not only reduced injuries to police and civilians, but has kept the mentally ill out of jail and in the health-care system, where they belong.

Advocates praise Philadelphia police for embracing the program, however belatedly.


Kelley had broken into several City Hall offices and was later confronted by police after he broke a window at the Robert N.C. Nix Federal Building at 9th and Market streets.

When he lunged at them with a knife, and failed to be stopped by two tasers, police shot him.

The knife, stolen earlier from the office of City Council President Anna Verna, was described as a "cake knife," but it had an eight-inch blade with a serrated edge and was clearly a lethal weapon.

"The last thing we want to see is the use of deadly force in these kinds of situations," said police spokesman Capt. Benjamin Naish.

"But more than anything, we'll do anything we can to avoid civilians or police officers from getting seriously injured or killed."

With the new CIT program, Naish said, "If the right people are there at the right time, there may be a more peaceful resolution."

But that's too late for Charles Kelley and others, whose only crime was that they were sick. *

E-mail porterj@phillynews.com or call 215-854-5850. For recent columns: