Man killed by Houston police had financial woes
Police say they fired when pistol was aimed at them
Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle
A south Houston man killed by police Tuesday during a tense SWAT standoff outside his home had recently been depressed because of financial setbacks, family members said.
“He couldn’t keep a job. He lost a couple of cars,” said Ruth Moore, the grandmother of the man she identified as Reginald Sumbler. “He just got tired. You can get disgusted and tired.”
After holding police at bay for nearly an hour, Sumbler — armed with a pistol and toting a Bible — was shot about 10:30 a.m. when he pointed the weapon at officers who surrounded him in the 4300 block of Mowery near Duane, Houston police officials said.
“Our officers fired to protect the life of the officer who was threatened,” said Capt. Bruce Williams, an HPD spokesman.
Sumbler then fell back into a ditch near where he had been standing, on the grassy median between the rows of homes along Mowery.
Although struck by the gunfire, Sumbler grabbed at the pistol and raised it a second time toward the officers. Williams said he fired at least once.
“That is when both patrol officers and SWAT officers (again) discharged their weapons,” he said.
Sumbler was taken to Ben Taub General Hospital but died soon after his arrival, Williams said.
Tuesday’s fatal shooting appears to be a case of “suicide by cop,” where someone presents an imminent threat to a police officer in order to provoke a lethal response, HPD officials said.
“It was reported (to police) that a male had a weapon, wanting to kill himself or wanting officers to kill him,” Williams said.
Sumbler told relatives who were trying to calm him down to leave the area.”His threats were serious,” Williams said.
Police didn’t know if Sumbler had a history of mental illness but said they had reports he had taken some kind of narcotic earlier in the day.
The first officer at the scene was trained in crisis intervention and began talking with Sumbler, establishing what HPD officials called a “good dialogue.”
“The suspect appeared to have up and down swings in his mood. At one point, he seemed pretty calm,” Williams said. “At some point in time, the suspect was convinced to lay his weapon down.”
Williams didn’t know how long the crisis-trained HPD officer spoke with Sumbler before SWAT officers arrived at the scene and set up a perimeter around the area.
Community activist Quanell X blamed HPD’s SWAT team for escalating the tension until it erupted into gunfire.
“The first police officer did a great job talking to this young man,” Quanell said. But “he did not have the time that he needed because the SWAT team responded with their ‘shoot-to-kill’ mentality.”
Bystanders saw standoff
Williams didn’t know how long the first officer spoke with Sumbler before the heavily armed SWAT team arrived on the scene. Sumbler asked police to turn on their squad car radios so he could listen to the music and later wondered if the scene would be given news coverage.A crowd of bystanders watched as Sumbler began acting erratically, alternately waving his pistol in the air and reading the Bible he brought along. Although they were pushed back when police arrived at the scene, some still witnessed the standoff’s violent end.
Neighbor Chris Grant said he had known Sumbler for years, calling him his “homeboy.”
“I don’t know what was wrong with him. I never saw him ‘trip out’ like that,” Grant said.
He said he saw Sumbler holding the pistol but didn’t see him point it at the officers, whom he accused of overreacting to the perceived threat.
“I know they didn’t have to shoot that man so many times,” Grant said. “That first shot knocked him completely off his feet. He was on his back.”
‘No room for negotiations’
Williams called the officer-involved shooting “tragic” but said Sumbler gave police no other option when he aimed the weapon at them.”I think once you pull a pistol and raise it, and at some point discharge it, there’s no room for negotiations then,” Williams said.
An HPD spokesman on Tuesday did not know how many officer-involved shootings have occurred in Houston that resulted from suspected “suicide by cop” cases.
An HPD officer fatally shot Marnell Villarreal, 42, when she charged into police headquarters on May 6 while clutching a knife overhead.
Police said Villarreal cried out, “Shoot me, kill me. I want to end this,” and refused commands to drop the weapon. When a Taser had no effect on the distraught woman, the officer fired a single shot at her with his pistol.
The Harris County District Attorney’s Office along with detectives from HPD’s homicide and internal affairs divisions are investigating Tuesday’s fatal shooting.