Barre family attorney: ‘Significant’ failure of law enforcement communicating with family, mental health professionals

“My interest is in what all transpired, what sort of practices were utilized much further upstream with this young man because we know for a fact this had been going on for awhile." — Mike Brose, CEO of Mental Health Association Oklahoma.

Donate
From right: Joshua Barre (left) holds his baby brother. Barre was shot and killed by officers Friday. Courtesy

About a week before Joshua Barre was killed following an encounter with local law enforcement, his mother had sought assistance from the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office in getting him into treatment, she told The Frontier during an interview this week.

Barre’s mother, Etta Lowe-Barre, said she presented Tulsa Sheriff’s Office deputies with keys to her son’s home on June 1 . However, officers didn’t enter Barre’s home because they said he had a hammer, yelled threats at deputies and wasn’t an immediate threat to the public.

Police say Barre, 29, was entering a convenience store armed with two large knives when officers fatally shot him on Friday morning. Two deputies requested assistance from the Tulsa Police Department after neighbors reported they saw Barre walking down the street carrying the knives, according to a TPD statement on the incident released Friday.

Authorities say deputies with the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office mental health unit — who have specialized training — sought to take Barre into custody for a mental health evaluation at least three times before officers shot and killed him Friday.

On June 1, the unit went to Barre’s home where he was allegedly armed with a hammer and yelling threats at deputies, the statements says. Police say because he was in the house alone and didn’t pose an immediate threat to the public, they left.

Lowe-Barre, 57, said she was present that day and gave deputies keys to her son’s home. Barre’s psychiatrist obtained a court order for a mental health evaluation and her son had been off his prescribed medication for about a month.

On June 5, a neighbor notified deputies stating Barre was allegedly up the previous night, scaring her children, police said. Officers weren’t able to locate Barre that night.

On June 7, police said they again went to Barre’s home where he allegedly threatened to kill officers. Deputies again left the house because Barre wasn’t an immediate threat to the public.

Tulsa County Sheriff Vic Regalado told The Frontier on Monday that because Barre wasn’t an immediate threat to the public, deputies didn’t want to escalate the situation to the point use of force would be necessary. Instead, they waited for a future opportunity to complete the mental health pickup in a safer manner. The situation changed when Barre entered the street armed with knives, he said.

“In another view, we hope Joshua’s death wasn’t in vain,” Regalado said.

Regalado said he believes the underlying issue is budget cuts to Oklahoma’s mental health treatment programs and Friday’s shooting might bring the problem front and center.

“We’re starting to see the byproduct of that, if anything comes out of this, community and law enforcement can partner to bring to light that issue,” he said.

On Monday, Regalado said on the Pat Campbell’s podcast that the agency’s mental health unit has a “low” record of use-of-force incidents and Friday’s deadly-force shooting was the first the unit has been involved in.

Tulsa Police Department, which is investigating the incident, has not released the identity of the police officer involved in the shooting. All three law enforcers are on administrative leave following the shooting.

Dan Smolen, an attorney for Lowe-Barre, said he believes that on the day Barre was killed, there was a “significant” failure in law enforcement communicating with Barre’s family and mental health professionals who had been treating him.

During the visits leading up to Friday, Smolen said, deputies appeared to be in contact with both Lowe-Barre and mental health professionals.

“Mom had made herself available,” Smolen said. “And they showed up on Friday without all these individuals.”

Additionally, Smolen said, it’s unclear whether the deputies were acting on a mental health pickup order Friday or responding to the four separate 911 calls detailing Barre walking down the street with the two knives.

One caller reported Barre had “two butcher knives in his hand… headed someplace to do harm to somebody.”

Another caller said Barre was “walking the streets with a machete, threatening people.”

Smolen said he questioned why deputies went to Barre’s home without his family or mental health professionals Friday when the agency had access to and was aware of his mental health history since at least May 31, when the Sheriff’s Office received a court order to located Barre for a mental health evaluation.

Mike Brose, CEO of Mental Health Association Oklahoma, said although authorities will determine whether the shooting was justified, what happened leading up to Friday’s fatal encounter needs to be analyzed from the perspective of law enforcement and the mental health community.

“My interest is in what all transpired, what sort of practices were utilized much further upstream with this young man because we know for a fact this had been going on for awhile,” Brose said.

Under Oklahoma statute, law enforcement are the appointed body to transport people to and from mental health facilities when it is determined the individual needs immediate care and is a danger to his or herself or others.

Brose said law enforcement would ideally collaborate with Barre’s family, friends or a mental health professional, to see whether they could persuade him to leave the house to go to treatment.

“Maybe they used all of those options. … But at the same time, he’s very sick, Brose said. “I think we need to explore with law enforcement what sort of other resources, can they, for the future, call upon to assist them in terms of trying to persuade this young man to come out of the house peacefully.”

Brose said mental illnesses often are treated differently from physical ailments.

“If a person was bleeding, and they were in danger to bleed to death, we would throw everything we had at them to stop them from bleeding and stabilize them. … It may take awhile, but they’re going to obviously bleed out and die but they’re not raising their arm, waving it saying, ‘Help me, help me,’” Brose said.

“We wouldn’t even consider doing that, but I could make an argument that’s sort of what we do with people that are very sick and their mental illness is in an untreated state and they’re in a crisis mode.”

Meanwhile, Brose said, law enforcement are unfairly tasked to address and deal with highly complex situations that might involve individuals, as well as their families, who are in the throes of a mental health crisis. 

Police say they encountered Barre, who was carrying two knives, at 300 West 50th Court North. Deputies allegedly ordered Barre to drop the knives and said they were there to help him. However, police say, Barre refused to drop the knives or stop walking and allegedly threatened to kill the deputies.

Authorities say a deputy used a Taser on Barre, but it had no affect on him. Fearing for their lives and and safety of people in the store, officers shot him.

On Friday, the Tulsa Police Department released a one-minute edited clip showing a bare-footed Barre holding two knives pointed downward opening the store’s door and beginning to enter the building when officers fired their weapons.

Warning, graphic content. Source: Tulsa Police Department

Police say they rendered aid and called EMS immediately, but Barre died at a hospital.

Smolen said Barre walked about a mile from his home to the convenience store and that officers had plenty of time to get assistance from either his family or mental health professionals.

Smolen and Barre’s family also question why deputies didn’t take Barre into protective custody during the previous visits to his home.

Joshua Barre’s family said Barre loved to sketch and draw comics. KASSIE MCCLUNG/The Frontier

Barre-Lowe said her son had schizoaffective and bipolar disorders, and likely was living with Asperger syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder. In high school, he was designated as learning disabled. He was not on his prescribed medication when he was shot and killed by officers.

After Barre’s father died in 2010, his mother started noticing signs of “serious mental health issues and depression,” Smolen said. 

Aside from a ticket for public intoxication ticket in 2012, Barre had no criminal record.

Family members wearing “Justice 4 Joshua” T-shirts filtered in and out of Lowe-Barre’s home on Sunday afternoon, many with similar questions: Why didn’t officers take Barre into protective custody in the weeks leading up to his killing? Why hasn’t the Tulsa Police Department released more footage of the incident? Why didn’t they get him help during the one-mile walk to the convenience store?

Photos of Joshua Barre sit on a table in his mother’s home. KASSIE MCCLUNG/The Frontier

The Tulsa Police Department has yet to release any footage that might have been recorded on officers’ dash cameras or body cameras. The agency has released only the edited one-minute video taken from the security camera of the convenience store.

Smolen said authorities told him at least one of the officers involved in the shooting was equipped with a body camera, but the agency is unsure whether it can retrieve the footage due to technical issues with the video storage system.

The investigation into the shooting is ongoing. Tulsa County Undersheriff George Brown said more details will be released as they become available.

A spokesman for the Tulsa Police Department on Monday said he didn’t know when or if more footage would be released. The Frontier has submitted an Open Records request for any additional video or audio.

Brose said his organization advocates for all officers and other first responders to have Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training that is ongoing — training that is designed to unite officers, mental health providers, hospitals and people with mental illnesses along with their family, to improve responses to people in crisis.

Brown said deputies who are apart of the mental health unit aren’t CIT training, but have different training designed to teach officers how to deal with people with mental illnesses.

Another remedy is a collaborative response such as the Community Response Team, a collaborative, mobile health co-responder unit that responds to individuals who have emergent mental health needs, Brose said.

The pilot program, which started in January, takes place once a week, but Brose said ideally, it would be staffed every day. The team includes a Tulsa Police Department officer, a TFD paramedic and a mental health professional from Family and Children’s Services.

Capt. Shellie Seibert, mental health coordinator for the Tulsa Police Department, said out of the agency’s 734 officers, 135 are CIT officers. Every officer goes through about 38 hours of mental health response training while in academy, and can later take a 40-hour voluntary CIT course.

Seibert said the department is considering working with the Sheriff’s Office to do additional mental health training. The agency is also collecting data to examine the effectiveness of the Community Response Team, she said.

“I think the biggest thing to understand is that officers are not therapists or psychiatrists,” Seibert said.
“So what we try to do by this training is teach them to identify behaviors, which are really symptoms of mental illness, but behaviors very quickly so they understand that they’re dealing with somebody in a psychiatric emergency.

“That way that will give them techniques to deal with the situation.”

Seibert said the TPD officer on scene when Barre died was CIT trained.

Smolen said the video showing Barre entering a convenience store before he was shot was “heavily edited” and has no audio, which could be vital in determining whether, and to what extent, the use of deadly force was justified.

Smolen said the family won’t have closure until they know why a mental health pickup ended in Barre’s death.

“There remain many gaps in the evidence and unanswered questions,” Smolen said. “We simply don’t know what happened between Josh and law enforcement in the moments before he was shot.”

————————————

Mental health resources:

Mental Health Association Oklahoma  

Mental Health Association referral line: 918-585-1213

National Alliance on Mental Health Tulsa

An earlier version of this article stated Shellie Seibert is a sergeant with the Tulsa Police Department. She is a captain. 

Your financial support for our investigative journalism is now tax deductible. To become a Friend of The Frontier, click here.

Kassie McClung

Staff writer

Kassie McClung joined The Frontier in May 2016. She reports on health, criminal justice and other state issues. Kassie holds a bachelors degree in multimedia journalism from Oklahoma State University. She likes dogs, maps and data. She can be reached at Kassie@readfrontier.com or 918-935-1044. Follow her on Twitter @KassieMcClung.
Donate