Austin Police say we are facing a mental health crisis. One incident this past weekend led to a woman being shot to death by officers.
Investigators have now identified the woman and determined the weapon she used to threaten them was a pellet gun that looks like a semi-automatic.
Flowers and candles mark the spot where 26-year-old Micah Jester was fatally shot by APD officers. It was a mental health crisis that spiraled out of control. One neighbor woke up to the gunfire.
"We first heard what sounded like firecrackers, like pop, pop, pop. Apparently she started shooting in the house first, before she came out. Next thing you know you hear a lot of yelling, 'get down get down,'" says neighbor.
Jester's husband made the 911 call early Sunday morning, saying his wife needed help and had a gun. A Crisis Intervention Team officer was requested and responded to the scene with a patrol officer. That's when police say Jester approached them in the breezeway of her South Austin apartment with gun in hand saying, 'Shoot me. Shoot me. Kill me.'" Officers fired after she disregarded their commands.
"Just because a person is suffering from a mental health crisis, doesn't negate the fact that an officer still has to do what they have to do to protect themselves and other people at the scene," says Lt. Brian Jones, Crisis Intervention Team Supervisor, Austin Police Department.
While on the ground wounded, officers say Jester continued pleading for them to kill her and pointed the gun at them again.
This time officers fatally shot her. Investigators later determined that Jester was armed with a pellet gun that looks like a semi-automatic. Lt. Brian Jones says there is a mental health crisis around the country, with problems skyrocketing in the last several years.
"They're highly dynamic, rapidly changing. You just don't know, just like with any call whether it's mental health related or not, you don't exactly know what you're dealing with until you're there," says Lt. Jones.
They've worked hard to mitigate the situations. There are seven officers and one sergeant who make up Austin Police Department's Crisis Intervention Team. There's an additional 200 specially-trained mental health officers on patrol. Those officers responded to 11,000 mental health calls just last year, but they rely on other partners for help.
"Every time I see it was a mentally ill person, I always wonder, 'Is there something that could've been done differently? Did we see this person in our system... that we didn't commit her or did we commit her? Did she get out of the hospital somewhere before she needed to be out of the hospital?" says Judge Guy Herman, Travis County Probate Judge.
Seton's Psychiatric Emergency Services Department is one place officers can take patients with mental health problems as an alternative to jail. There will soon be another option come next year: The Judge Guy Herman Center for Mental Health Crisis Care.
"it's going to be a place that we can take people who have mental health crisis. The family can take them in, an officer can take them in and they can receive services," says Judge Herman.
They hope these options can end up saving lives. Judge Herman would also like a new probate court in a few years to help take care of all the mental health cases they have. As is standard protocol, both officers have been placed on paid administrative leave.