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Houston Police Officer Shoots Wheelchair-bound, Double Amputee in Head: FBI Investigates, World Watches

Texas justice is once again making international news coverage – in a bad way – as this week’s tragic shooting by an experienced Houston police officer makes its way around the world and as things continue to escalate in the Houston area.  It all started last Saturday night, when Houston Police responded to a domestic disturbance call at a group home shortly after midnight (1:30 a.m.).  It ended with an unarmed, mentally ill, double amputee dead in his wheelchair.  Or maybe it’s not ended yet: protests have begun in Harris County, and word is the FBI is on the job, looking into what has happened here.

What’s a group home? It’s a residence within a local community where people who aren’t related by blood or marriage, but who share common needs — like being disabled, or mentally challenged, live together. Actually, under Texas law these are designated as “community homes” while “group homes” are those dedicated to foster kids.

What happened? According to news reports, things obviously went from bad to the worst possible scenario, as the final result was the police officer shooting the double amputee to death. Yes, Brian Claunch was killed even though he could not stand or walk or do much harm to anyone, given the fact that he was not ambulatory, having only ONE arm and ONE leg, setting there in a wheelchair.

Mr. Claunch was extremely upset and loud that night — a man diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, he became infuriated when he wasn’t given a cigarette and a soda after he asked the caretaker for them.  When the police officers went into the home to assess things, they found the man in his wheelchair, swinging something – they could not tell what it was at the time – in a “threatening manner” (according to Jodi Silva, Houston Police Department spokesperson).

Claunch didn’t turn over the mystery object even though the cops asked him to put it down, the story goes, and feeling himself trapped in the corner of a room by the wheelchair bound man, Houston police officer Matthew Marin shot Brian Claunch in the head.  Police coverage of the episode is that the man appeared to be trying to stab the officer with the object, and was getting “within an inch to a foot” of the officer when the officer decided to shoot his weapon.

Afterwards, they found out that Brian Claunch was holding a PEN. (He liked to draw and usually had one with him, according to the lady who ran the home.)

So, a cop with five years on the job goes into a community home and is so terrified that he may die that he shoots a mentally ill man with one arm and one leg, setting in his wheelchair waving a pen around, in the HEAD.

Here’s the official version of events from the Houston Police Department, issued as a news release on September 24, 2012:

HPD Homicide Division Sergeant J. Burton and Officer M. Brady reported:

Officers responded to a disturbance at the above residence, the Healing Hands Assisted Home Care, a residence for mentally challenged persons.  When officers arrived, they encountered the suspect, seated in a wheelchair.  The  suspect was agitated and began to yell at the officers and threatened to kill them and the other residents of the home.  As he yelled at the officers, he waved a shiny object in his hand in their direction.  The suspect refused the officers’ verbal commands to drop the object and advanced in a threatening manner toward one of the officers.  As the suspect backed one of the officers into a corner, he attempted to stab the officer with the object.  Officer Marin, fearing for his partner’s life, and his own safety, discharged his duty weapon one time, striking the suspect.  The object was discovered to be a shiny, ball point pen.

It’s since been revealed by the Houston Chronicle that Houston Police Department officer Matthew Marin has a prior incident on his record where he shot someone else — three years ago.

First response by the Houston Police Department: a public statement that included the information that Internal Affairs is supposed to be investigating what happened and initially, Officer Marin was moved to three days of desk duty.

However, people are understandably upset by this and the story keeps spreading.

Protests — including the Black Panthers group — were happening in front of City Hall by the following TuesdayEditorials were printed.  The story has spread to places like Kansas; MontanaToronto, Canada; England; and Italy.

Two days after the shooting, the Houston Police Chief issued this news release:

September 24, 2012 – On Saturday, September 22, 2012, officers from the Houston Police Department responded to a call for service involving a disturbance with a violent person at 4309 Polk Street.  During the response to the incident, an officer discharged his firearm resulting in the death of a citizen, Brian C. Claunch.

The Houston Police Department places the highest value on human life and events like these are tragic and unfortunate for everyone involved.  All Houston Police Officers receive mandatory crisis intervention training specifically dealing with persons experiencing mental crisis.  As we do in all instances of this nature, the Houston Police Department’s Homicide and Internal Affairs Divisions, and the Harris County District Attorneys Office, Civil Rights Division, are investigating this incident.

In addition, I have also asked the local office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to monitor and investigate this incident.  As I have done throughout my tenure as Police Chief, to the extent I can, the Houston Police Department will be open and transparent in all aspects of our response to this tragic event.

It is my desire to have everyone reserve judgment until all the facts and evidence in this investigation have been gathered.

-Charles A. McClelland, Jr.
Chief of Police

That’s right:  as the Police Chief stated – and as covered by places like the New York Times, the FBI is in Houston now, to investigate what happened in that group home last weekend, when things turned very wrong after a man in a wheelchair, crippled by severe mental illness, was denied a coke and a cigarette on a Saturday night.

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