SPEEDWAY — The fatal shooting in February of 28-year-old De'Aire Gray, a man who suffered from schizophrenia, raises questions about the state's mental health system and the way police officers interact with the mentally ill.
Special Prosecutor Chris Gaal on Thursday cleared Speedway Police Department Officer Robby Harris of any criminal charges in the Feb. 12 shooting that killed Gray nine days later.
In a 24-page report filed in Marion Superior Court, Gaal found that Harris had acted in self-defense. Gray was holding a BB gun when he was shot, Gaal said.
Gray was sick, his family told WRTV. Records show a Marion County judge had ruled him incompetent to stand trial in a felony arson case. A month before he was shot, Gray had been placed in a new state-run competency restoration program.
Here's everything we know about the incident, Gray's mental health and the state program that failed to get him the help he needed.
Body cam video
The shooting that ended Gray's life was captured on police body cameras. It shows the BB gun in Gray's right hand and shows officers yelling at him to drop it.
According to a preliminary probable cause affidavit, Speedway Police officers received an email on Feb. 9 that said a man was living in a vehicle and defecating in the parking lot in the 5900 block of West 25th Street. The email stated that the property manager wanted the man removed from the property.
At about 11:30 p.m. on Feb. 12, officers Robby Harris, Scott Highland and Madeline O'Day were investigating the complaint when they saw Gray get into the Chevrolet Cavalier described in the email.
Officers tried to talk to Gray, but he told them “he didn’t like how they were walking up on him,” and ran away.
Police chased Gray for about a block to the 2400 block of Parkland Drive. Gray pulled a BB gun from a bag and Harris shot him.
Gray was not homeless. He was living in his mother's apartment. Their apartment door is about 15 feet from where his car had been parked.
Gray's mental illness
Gray had been diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2015, his mother Tanya Atkins told WRTV. He would talk to himself and hear voices. He was convinced people were trying to hurt him, and believed that even his mother had turned on him.
Atkins said his family tried to get him help but had little success. In 2015, she said a judge ordered Gray to undergo mental health treatment for three months under a civil commitment.
But when Gray got out of the hospital, Atkins said he stopped taking medicine. The voices came back.
Poor candidate for new program
In December 2019, Marion County prosecutors charged Gray with 17 counts of arson.
Marion Superior Court Judge Sheila Carlisle found Gray incompetent to stand trial in September 2020. Carlisle ordered him to be treated through the Indiana Division of Mental Health and Addiction. Typically, that would mean Gray would be sent to a state hospital for in-patient treatment.
Instead, records show that the DMHA placed Gray in a community-based pilot program being tested in Marion County that would save money and get defendants the help they need more quickly.
Dr. George Parker, one of two experts who evaluated Gray for the court, told WRTV that Gray was a poor candidate for the brand new program.
“He had very poor insight into his illness, which is not that unusual in people who have schizophrenia … So, if he's not going to take medication, at least not easily, he's not going to be restored," Parker said.
Trained to de-escalte
Speedway officers, along with every officer in the state, are trained in how to approach people with a mental illness.
“Proper communication skills are key in de-escalating a situation involving an individual having, or suspected of having, a mental illness,” the Speedway Police Department spells out in a five-page General Order on the subject.
It is not clear whether the responding officers were aware of Gray's mental illness. The body camera video of the incident showed no attempt by officers to de-escalate the situation before chasing and shooting Gray.
“If we go in there all hyped up, all excited … that’s how they are going to react to us,” said Fort Wayne Police Department Lt. Tony Maze, one of the state’s leading experts on how police should approach and deal with mentally ill individuals.
But calm words and a soothing tone won't help when a suspect is holding a gun, Maze told WRTV.
“If a gun came into play and the officers felt threatened, they’re going to react to stop that threat,” Maze said. “That’s just part of our training.”
Contact WRTV reporter Vic Ryckaert at email@example.com or on Twitter: @vicryc.