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Faith leaders, activists call for action following police shooting of Dante Kittrell

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Gemma DiCarlo
/
WVPE News
Friends and family members of Dante Kittrell released balloons in his memory on Monday, Aug. 1. Kittrell's death has sparked a debate over mental health crisis response in South Bend.

Activists and faith leaders gathered at Coquillard Elementary Monday evening to remember Dante Kittrell, who was shot and killed by South Bend police officers late last week.

According to a Friday press release from the St. Joseph County Police Department — which is investigating the incident along with the Mishawaka Police — South Bend officers were dispatched to the school around 11:38 a.m. on a report of an armed man threatening suicide near the baseball fields.

A 20-minute video of the incident posted to social media shows officers with guns drawn surrounding the man, later identified as Kittrell. He’s seen pacing back and forth, sometimes waving his arms and appearing to speak with officers.

About 11 and a half minutes into the video, a South Bend police SWAT team vehicle arrives and drives onto the field. Approximately 1 minute later, Kittrell appears to reach for his waist and then raise his arm.

Multiple shots are heard in rapid succession, and Kittrell falls to the ground. Officers then move in, and an ambulance is seen driving onto the field about 1 minute later.

Kittrell suffered from schizophrenia, and the release says officers attempted to de-escalate the situation. But Pastor Claval Hunter of Berean Seventh Day Adventist Church said that the situation called for a different protocol.

“When police officers arrived on the scene and noticed a man was not in his right mind, they should have immediately called for our city’s mental health crisis intervention team to come to the scene,” Hunter said at Monday’s vigil. “Instead, they called the SWAT team.”

Hunter said the police also prevented pastors and family members from attempting to calm Kittrell and de-escalate the situation.

J.B. Williams, pastor of Abundant Faith and Family Ministries, said he was “summoned” to the scene by a member of his congregation and told that it was against police protocol for him to approach Kittrell.

“I said, ‘But the protocol you are following is not applicable,’” Williams said. “Negotiators are negotiating for a person that's normal. But this person was sick — you cannot negotiate with a person who is a schizophrenic.”

Williams said police also prevented Kittrell’s mother from approaching him for fear of escalating the situation.

“I said, ‘You’re dealing with a whole different culture. You’re dealing with African Americans,” he said to shouts of agreement. “When mothers speak, Black boys listen. But they didn’t have the system designed for that.”

In a statement, South Bend Mayor James Mueller asked community members “to be patient and wait for more information, as Sheriff Redman and his team continue the investigation.”

“We are committed to a full, transparent investigation and any needed improvements going forward,” it reads.

The city will also host a community action group to discuss crisis procedures later this month. But attendees at Monday’s vigil said they had been patient long enough.

“We love and we respect our mayor — however, his response is late,” Hunter said. “My people in America have been patient with a country that has been mistreating us for hundreds of years.”

The group called for a meeting with city and law enforcement leaders within the next five days to discuss three demands:

  • A special prosecutor from outside the county to investigate the shooting
  • The release of any body cam footage and 911 dispatch recordings related to the shooting
  • An investment of at least 10 percent of the city’s police budget into “clinician-led non-law enforcement mobile crisis response teams to deal with situations that involve mental health and substance use”

County leaders approved funding for a mental health crisis response center late last year, following a push from the St. Joseph County chapter of Faith in Indiana and other community organizations. South Bend also committed $5.8 million to “county partnerships for homelessness and mental health.”

A mobile crisis response team, operated by Oaklawn, also began responding to calls this spring.

“They were available to respond to the incident on Friday,” Rebekah Go, a member of Faith in Indiana’s Jail Diversion Task Force, said. “Why they were not called, I do not call. They were the appropriate people to respond.”

Go said the group is continuing to push for more permanent funding streams for the county’s mental health crisis response center and units.

Contact Gemma at gdicarlo@wvpe.org or follow her on Twitter at @gemma_dicarlo.

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Gemma DiCarlo comes to Indiana by way of Athens, Georgia. She graduated from the University of Georgia in 2020 with a degree in Journalism and certificates in New Media and Sustainability. She has radio experience from her time as associate producer of Athens News Matters, the flagship public affairs program at WUGA-FM.