SANTA FE, N.M. — In a case with parallels to the recent shooting of a mentally ill camper in the Albuquerque foothills, well-known local activist Jewel Hall said Monday that she has received a $725,000 settlement from the city of Saginaw, Mich., where her own mentally ill son died in a hail of police bullets.
Milton Hall, 49, died July 1, 2012, in the parking lot off a busy commercial road following an altercation over a cup of coffee from a convenience store. Eight Saginaw officers responded, and Milton Hall, who was agitated and fearful when a police dog was released, brandished a 3-inch penknife, according to attorneys representing Jewel Hall and her son’s estate. Saginaw police officers fired up to 47 rounds at him, hitting him 11 times – five of those rounds in the back. Milton Hall died at the scene.
Jewel Hall said her son had “mental challenges,” received disability income “but could take care of his personal needs and could live alone.”
A resident of the Albuquerque metro area since 1977, Jewel Hall is a retired Albuquerque Public Schools teacher and is the president of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Center as well as the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Multicultural Council.
A passerby’s video of the shooting, available online from CNN and YouTube, appears to show Milton Hall backing away and turning around after a police dog was deployed, only to be hit with a rapid-fire discharge of bullets.
The scenario is similar to the recent shooting of James Boyd in the Sandia foothills, also caught on video, though in that case from an officer’s helmet camera. Boyd, too, was brandishing knives, became even more agitated when a police dog was let loose, and seemed to be backing away and turning around when he was shot repeatedly by officers.
The shooting of Hall prompted public outrage and protests. The police chief there, like the chief here, initially defended the actions of the officers and said the victim was long-known to police as a troubled and violent individual.
The Department of Justice investigated the shooting in Saginaw, as it is currently doing with the shooting in Albuquerque. In Michigan, the DOJ concluded it didn’t find any “willful misconduct” or intent on the part of the police officers and did not pursue federal criminal charges.
Jewel Hall, who has a copy of the DOJ ruling, said she has a different take on it: “They committed murder,” she said, describing the officers as “a firing squad dressed in police uniforms.”
The Saginaw County prosecutor and the Michigan Attorney General’s Office also declined to prosecute the officers, decisions that led to further protests, according to Hall’s attorneys. The city of Saginaw, however, subsequently acknowledged that “its officers lacked sufficient training, particularly in how to deal with mentally distressed people,” the attorneys said.
While police never admitted guilt, the $725,000 settlement “speaks volumes with respect to the validity of the claim,” said Debra Freid, a member of Jewel Hall’s Michigan legal team.
“Milton Hall had a very small pocket knife that certainly didn’t pose any risk, let alone a risk of imminent death, to the officers around him. They opened fire to protect a police dog, which should never have been used anyway and was not in danger.”
Further, she said, Milton Hall was so agitated and frightened by the officers’ response to the situation that he called police from his cellphone.
“It was never about the money for Jewel, anyway, but it had to be a substantial sum to make sure something like this didn’t happen again, and to serve as recognition of the value of her son’s life, despite his illness,” she said.
Settlements as a result of police shootings and misconduct could cost Albuquerque potential payouts in excess of $24 million – or more as several suits are ongoing, according to city officials. Since 2010, there have been 23 fatal officer-involved shootings.