In August, Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark announced that the two NYPD officers who confronted and fatally shot 32-year-old Kawaski Trawick in his Bronx apartment last year would not face criminal charges. On Tuesday, Clark's office released a 42-page report with body camera footage, explaining that she made her decision because the actions of the two officers involved, Herbert Davis and Brendan Thompson, could be seen as reasonable given that Trawick charged them with a knife.
The report also states that the officers weren't fully aware of Trawick's history of mental illness and interactions with the NYPD because of a communication breakdown, and that NYPD officers should have more training on responding to emotionally distressed New Yorkers.
At least 14 mentally ill New Yorkers have died in encounters with the NYPD over the past three years.
On April 14th, 2019 a security guard called 911 on Trawick for playing loud music in his apartment — a supportive housing residence at 1616 Grand Avenue in Morris Heights. Security camera footage shows Trawick walking in a hallway of the building while carrying a large stick. The building's superintendent called 911, and claimed that Trawick was threatening to punch him in the face, and at some point, video shows Trawick brandishing a serrated knife with an 8-inch blade outside the super's apartment. As police were responding to the call, Trawick called 911 with his cell phone, asking the fire department to respond, claiming his building's superintendent locked him out of the apartment; he later revised his story to claim that there was a fire inside his apartment.
Firefighters eventually arrived to break down the door for Trawick, minutes before the police arrived.
"Mr. Trawick’s demeanor immediately changed once the door was opened," the report states. "He went from agitated to ecstatic, thanking the FDNY and fist-bumping the firefighters."
According to the report, a dispatcher told NYPD officers Davis and Thompson of the 46th Precinct to respond to a harassment call at Trawick's address, then added, “sensitive location for [unintelligible] EDP," shorthand for emotionally disturbed person but that neither officer acknowledged that statement.
When the officers arrived, the super and the security guard told the officers that Trawick had a stick and a knife, and that he had been "acting out," but did not specifically detail Trawick's history of mental illness. Officer Davis told investigators he believed that Trawick "may be under the influence of an unknown substance and may have to be taken to the hospital."
The officers said they went up to Trawick's apartment and found him holding a knife, which he said he was using to cook.
"Why are you in my home?” Trawick asked the officers, who did not respond to the question, but told Trawick repeatedly to "put it down."
Trawick is then heard saying, "Just hold it in the center...of the brain...yea...hold it...hold it, hold it, the center, the center, the center of the brain."
Thompson took out his Taser, and after Trawick ignored their orders to drop the knife, hit Trawick with the Taser.
But Trawick was not fully subdued, as the electricity coursing through the Taser disengaged after five seconds. Trawick immediately got up from the ground, rushed toward the officers with the stick and knife in hands while screaming “Get out, bitch, I’m gonna kill you all!”
Thompson then fired his service weapon four times, as recorded by his body camera. The entire encounter, from when the officers entered the building until Officer Thompson fired his weapon, lasted around six minutes.
In a statement on the incident, Clark said Trawick's death could have been avoided had officers been properly trained in responding to cases involving mentally ill New Yorkers, despite the fact that the report states that both officers had received the NYPD's Crisis Intervention Training—Officer Davis received his three days before responding to the call at Trawick's apartment. The report also does not delve into recent data showing that the kind of Tasers used by NYPD officers have found to be increasingly ineffective.
"Once again, we have a death that painfully illustrates that changes are needed in the response to those in mental health crisis, and that we as a community must do better to provide appropriate assistance for residents of supportive housing in the City," Clark said in a statement. "There must be treatment and services readily available to prevent persons from reaching a point where they may cause harm to themselves or others. I continue to encourage a productive conversation about how to better approach calls to help people in crisis to avoid an escalation resulting in a fatality."
Ellen Trawick, Kawaski's mother, called the DA's report "biased," and said in a statement that her son was "not a threat to anyone."
“Thompson Tased my son out of nowhere, even though Kawaski posed no threat—and then he shot and killed my son," she said in a statement. "Neither officer gave any aid while my son lay dying on the floor. If Thompson and Davis had treated Kawaski like a human being, he would be alive today. Because of the failure of the Bronx DA to indict these officers, I’m focused today on fighting to make sure that Mayor de Blasio and the NYPD fire Thompson and Davis because the way they killed my son makes them a clear danger to New Yorkers."
The report's release comes a week after Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the commencement of a long-planned pilot program in which mental health professionals, and not NYPD officers, will first respond to instances where non-violent mentally ill New Yorkers are in distress. The pilot will be confined to two NYPD precincts that receive a disproportionate amount of calls for mentally ill New Yorkers in distress.