Since Mother’s Day, Kristopher Rene Jones has not been well.
Jones, a 60-year-old black man, takes medication for bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, said his fiancée Lynn Lawrence. But he’d stopped taking the pills and devolved into another “episode” this week.
On Friday morning, a bystander reported to police that Jones was assaulting someone inside an SUV in a Del Paso Heights parking lot. Jones was alone in the Chrysler Pacifica, but the officer called for backup believing Jones might have explosives. At one point, officers drew their guns, according to witnesses.
It’s a neighborhood where residents have come to fear the worst during police incidents, especially involving mentally ill people and African Americans. Last month, an officer drew scrutiny for tackling and repeatedly punching a pedestrian. Last summer, two officers shot a mentally ill man carrying a pocket knife on Del Paso Boulevard.
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But within an hour, Jones was safely headed to a local hospital to receive psychiatric care. Lawrence said the peaceful outcome resulted from community members turning out to help and officers willing to listen and de-escalate.
“We ended up with someone who wasn’t dead because people worked together this time,” Lawrence said. “And that’s how it needs to work every time.”
She described Jones, who she has been with for four years, as a sweet and generous truck driver, with a propensity for bringing home stray animals. But this time of year is tough.
His mother died in the Jonestown massacre in Guyana in 1978, when cult leader Jim Jones (no relation to Kristopher) convinced his followers to drink cyanide-laced Flavor Aid, Lawrence said. As a teenager, Jones had refused to join Jones’ Peoples Temple with his mom.
“Mother’s Day was a trigger point for him,” Lawrence said. “He has episodes every single time. I can count on that.”
Lawrence said she was worried Friday morning when she spoke to Jones and felt that he had gotten worse. She was due at work and asked a friend to check on him.
When Lawrence’s friend arrived, police were already surrounding the SUV. Officers were told an assault was taking place inside the SUV, according to police spokeswoman Linda Matthew.
They determined Jones was alone. The first officer on scene at about 7:40 a.m. said “the person in the car began to make threats that he had some kind of explosive device,” according to Matthew.
Jones had a garbage can in the back of the SUV, which Lawrence said had been used for yard work. The officer feared the can contained explosives and called for backup. At least seven more police vehicles responded, based on Facebook live video shot later by Debra Cummings, a neighborhood activist.
Matthew couldn’t confirm that guns were drawn but that “officers probably did have their guns out” as they evaluated the scene. Lawrence was alerted by her friend what was transpiring.
“That’s been my worst nightmare because he is a black man and I know he can act crazy,” said Lawrence. “Every time there is something like that with a mentally ill black person, I say, ‘Kris, this is why you have to stay on your meds, because I am afraid they are going to shoot you.’”
She immediately headed to the scene. On the way, she contacted the local chapter of Black Lives Matter, setting off a response from community activists.
Cummings rushed to the parking lot and began streaming the incident live on Facebook when she arrived. Danielle Williams of Sacramento Area Congregations Together said she also got a call, and estimates up to 75 people were there watching.
When Lawrence arrived, she explained Jones’ condition to police. She said her friend had tried with no luck.
“I ran across the street. I wasn’t going to wait,” she said. “I told them his whole history, that he didn’t have any weapons.”
At first, she thought they wouldn’t believe her, either. But things seemed to change when she said her father and mother were both police officers, she said. She also wonders how much her appearance made a difference. “I’m white, dressed conservatively,” she said. “It was different.”
Cummings said that after police spoke with Lawrence, “It just went from scary to calm ... and that’s the first (time) I have ever seen that living in Del Paso Heights.”
Matthew confirmed that police made the decision to de-escalate after speaking with “a witness that showed up on the scene that was related,” adding that Lawrence’s race was not a factor. “Our officers are highly trained professionals that treat everyone equally and with respect,” she said. “They do not judge others on their family’s economic or social position, race, income, education, or occupation.”
Lawrence said police holstered their guns and brought out non-lethal weapons including a bean-bag gun. She said police took the time to explain to her that they planned on knocking out the back window of the SUV and that if they did use the non-lethal weapon, it might sound like a regular gun shot. They told her “they wouldn’t use more force than what was necessary,” she said.
Police then broke the window and got Jones out with minimal force. He was taken to a nearby hospital and not arrested.
Lawrence said Jones was still in the hospital Saturday and doing well. He did not remember anything about the police encounter and his last memory was falling asleep in his vehicle, she said.
“He doesn’t even remember the guns. He just woke up in the hospital,” she said.
Jones has had run-ins with Sacramento law enforcement before, but for nonviolent offenses, most recently for a misdemeanor charge of providing alcohol to a minor in 2011, according to court records. Lawrence said she has also called police in the past when Jones was having mental health problems, but “it’s never been like this where there were guns pointed on him.”
Lawrence said she felt “numb” and tired of the “stigma” of dealing with mental illness after Friday’s events. She said she would hesitate to call police in the future if Jones has another incident because she fears how quickly situations can escalate.
She thinks community turnout made a difference this time, but she remains worried about a next time.
“I love him dearly,” she said. “I think God just protected him that day.”