Anné Josefson walks toward a table outside the Starbucks in La Mesa’s Grossmont Center, carrying a black three-ring binder. Clasped inside are two 11-by-24-inch pictures of her son, Nathan Manning. She opens the binder, displaying a picture of a young man with long, wavy brown hair sitting on a step, holding a classical guitar, and smiling. She then recounts the phone call she received on May 20 at 8:00 p.m. from her ex-husband. “He told me that Nathan had been killed by a policeman.”
Tears appear in her light blue eyes, showing through tinted sunglasses. She pauses, as if she has not yet processed the news.
Josefson explains that her son suffered from bipolar disorder, and she talks about his manic episodes and his struggles to fit into society. But she stresses that he was kind and caring and that his manic episodes never turned violent.
She describes the last time she saw her son at her Scripps Ranch home, ten days before his death. He appeared “grounded” and “hopeful,” she says. In April he’d moved into an apartment in Normal Heights with a friend. He was teaching classical guitar at a music store in El Cajon, applying the master’s degree in music he received from San Diego State University. During their visit, Manning told her that he’d stopped taking his medication, convinced he could handle his condition without it.
“He was where he wanted to be,” she says. “He wasn’t ready to die. He had just started to live.” Josefson pauses, as tears reappear in her eyes.
She returns to the phone call she received from her ex-husband and then jumps to the press release issued by the San Diego Police Department the day of her son’s death, an account she says is inaccurate and misleading.
According to the district attorney’s review of the shooting and other sources, on the afternoon of May 20, 31-year-old Nathan Manning was chasing his roommate down Adams Avenue near the corner of Hawley Boulevard in Normal Heights. Manning was dressed in pajamas, and the review says he was “pushing and hitting” his roommate in the middle of the street. Minutes later, San Diego Police Department Detective Edward Jones, an 18-year veteran on the force, arrived at the scene. Jones was dressed in plain clothes and wore a badge on a chain around his neck. Jones identified himself and took out his baton. Manning charged him. Jones struck Manning on the shoulder with his baton. A scuffle ensued. Manning “began choking [Jones] around the neck,” according to the district attorney’s review, and he “also tried to take the detective’s gun away from him.” Jones removed the gun from his holster and fired a single, fatal shot into Manning’s abdomen.
Josefson says there are inconsistencies in the police department’s press release and media accounts that day. “Some facts were just wrong,” she says. “They said Nathan took a swing at [his roommate, Tom Montes] with a metal object and that Nathan and his roommate were in a fight in the street. [Montes] stated on the news afterwards that they were not fighting.”
Adds Josefson: “We just want information. We don’t know what made this officer shoot him. We don’t know why backup wasn’t called.”
The family’s search for more information about what happened that day has been unsuccessful. They say that the police department refuses to hand over the police report. They are upset and angry at the way law enforcement and the press portrayed Manning.
During a phone interview, Nathan’s brother Noah Manning, who lives in Seattle, says, “Our family is primarily interested in honoring Nathan’s life and making sure people know about the real life behind the headline ‘Mentally Ill Man Killed by Police.’
“The San Diego Police Department and the district attorney painted a picture to the public and the community that portrays my brother as a violent, mentally ill troublemaker instead of the funny, creative, and gentle music teacher with a master’s degree in classical guitar.”
Noah Manning and his family say they want to bring public awareness to the methods law enforcement uses when dealing with people suffering from mental illnesses. They want to see more training for officers and more use of nonlethal methods. “Our community needs to come together to help, not hurt, these individuals,” says Noah Manning.
During our conversation, Noah says he understands the difficulties that police officers face when finding themselves in any potentially dangerous situation. He says his family’s goal isn’t to criticize law enforcement, but his anguish and grief show through.
“How do you best explain and justify to the public the need to use lethal force against an unarmed man in his socks and pajamas in the middle of the afternoon?”
Explanations are hard to find, as are policies to guide law enforcement officers when they deal with people who may be mentally ill.
In San Diego County, “None of the police departments either have, nor will they disclose to the public, any written policy on how to deal with mental health events,” says Eric Revere, a member of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Revere is also a member of the County’s Mental Health Board, and he chairs its Critical Incidents Committee. The committee is looking into what he refers to as a “recent increase in serious incidents within the county involving mentally ill individuals.”
Following Nathan Manning’s death, Revere met with representatives from the San Diego Police Department, the County’s Mental Health Department, and the Psychiatric Emergency Response Team, and a $10,000 grant was announced to make more training available to officers and dispatchers and to fund educational leaflets for family members and the general public, which Revere expects to be available by February 2011.
The grant is small in comparison to the need.
“If the [mentally ill person] brandishes a weapon or physically assaults [the officer], they will respond with less-than-lethal or lethal force as their judgment dictates,” says Revere.
“All too often it is lethal force that is used, especially if the officers involved do not have the experience and knowledge in dealing with mentally ill persons.”