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Miami cop who shot distressed man on Liberty City porch, trained in crisis intervention

Miami Herald
The Miami Police officer who shot a man on the front porch of his Liberty City home two weeks ago — and other officers at the scene — were told by his mother before the shooting that he was suffering from a mental health crisis. And when the officers arrived at the home, they first encountered Donald Lenard Armstrong in the street, according to a police report obtained by the Miami Herald.

Armstrong, 47, then somehow made his way to the porch of his home with what police said “appeared to be a pointed weapon,” before he was stunned with a Taser, then shot multiple times by an eight-year Miami police veteran trained to deal with mental health crises named Kassandra Mercado, police said.

Miami Fraternal Order of Police President Felix del Rosario called Mercado a good young officer. He said Mercado, who has also received Crisis Intervention Training, has not given investigators a statement. Mercado is believed to have fired her weapon as many as 10 times. Police haven’t said how many times Armstrong was struck or why none of the other officers at the scene fired.

“Nobody but her can say what she perceived in a split-second decision,” del Rosario said.

Almost two weeks after the shooting, police have yet to explain exactly what the “pointed weapon” was that Armstrong allegedly wielded. In Armstrong’s arrest affidavit, it’s described as a “dirk,” a rarely used term for a double-edged blade made popular by Scottish Highland soldiers in the 1700s. One person with knowledge of the incident but who asked to remain anonymous, said the object held by Armstrong appeared to be some type of musical wand.

READ MORE: ‘He didn’t assault anybody.’ Man shot by Miami cops amid mental health crisis charged

Armstrong was arrested and charged with aggravated assault of a law enforcement officer and resisting arrest without violence. Mercado has been administratively reassigned and remains working from home. She patrols Model City, the neighborhood next to Liberty City where Armstrong was shot.

Shooting victim’s recovery

Miami Police Chief Manny Morales said he visited Armstrong in the hospital and he’s expected to make a full recovery. Morales said Armstrong’s uncle said he was high on “Molly,” a form of ecstasy that usually makes a person feel euphoric.

“He told me he was high, that he took some bad shit,” said the chief. “But he’s going to make a full recovery and hopefully it will be a life-changing experience.”

The shooting and cellphone footage that captured the moment when Armstrong was shot has drawn the ire of family members and the wrath of community organizations that make up the Healing and Justice Center in Miami.

READ MORE: Miami activists denounce police for shooting Black man having mental health crisis

During a gathering last week, the community groups blasted police for the incident. They also argued it could have been handled better by the Freedom House Mobile Crisis Unit, a civilian group that urges residents suffering similar crises to Armstrong to call it rather than police.

Program manager Chettarra Thompson called the police shooting a “sad, sad grave injustice.”

Healing and Justice Center Medical Director Dr. Armen Henderson speaks during a press conference last week across the street from the scene of a shooting in which a Miami Police officer shot a man in distress on his front porch multiple times.

Healing and Justice Center Medical Director Dr. Armen Henderson speaks during a press conference last week across the street from the scene of a shooting in which a Miami Police officer shot a man in distress on his front porch multiple times.

Video shows Miami cop opening fire

The cellphone video shows Armstrong in distress on his front porch of his home near Northwest 58th Street and Seventh Court, waving something long and thin in the air that has been described by observers as everything from a screwdriver to some type of wand. As he screams “Shoot. Shoot in the heart,” several officers aim their guns at him and repeatedly tell him to move away from someone he is standing next to on the porch, believed to be his mother, according to a neighbor who witnessed the shooting.

A woman believed to be his mother is heard pleading with police to not kill her son. Two officers fire Tasers. At one point Armstrong begins falling forward with whatever he’s holding up in the air. That’s when Mercado seems to fire the first shot. More are fired as he is falling and after he’s on the ground.

“The police life wasn’t in danger,” Armstrong’s cousin Lonnie Armstrong said Saturday. “That wasn’t called for. They didn’t have to shoot my cousin that many times.”

Two years ago, Mercado was praised by the city’s Civilian Investigative Panel for de-escalating a situation involving her partner, according to story from WTVJ Channel 6. Body camera footage showed her partner in a tense situation with another male.

At one point her partner tells someone he’s arguing with not to let the badge fool you, “I’m from Little Havana first, bro.” Mercado then gets her partner to back off before there is any force used.

Miami Herald staff writer C. Isaiah Smalls II contributed to this report.

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