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Aunt says man shot by police was ill

Family learned of man's mental illness when he was diagnosed after his arrest in April when he yelled and made obscene gestures at police

By Kevin McKenzie
The Commercial Appeal

MEMPHIS — A young man fatally shot by Memphis police near Beale Street on Tuesday had been diagnosed with a mental illness, a relative said Wednesday.

And that diagnosis, the man's aunt said, followed his first encounter with police patrolling Beale in the Downtown entertainment district in April.

Twenty-five years ago, outrage after Memphis police shot a knife-wielding mentally ill man led the department to create the Crisis Intervention Team. The CIT, designed to have specially trained officers handle mentally ill people in crisis, became a national model.

Christian Freeman, 19, was armed with a knife and refused to drop it when approached by officers about 1:40 a.m. Tuesday behind FedExForum near Fourth and Beale, police said. They said Freeman charged them and two officers shot him to death.

Celena Jones, 46, said Freeman was her nephew and that he had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.

The Mayo Clinic online reports that classic symptoms of the illness are delusions and hearing things that aren't real. It also defines paranoid schizophrenia as a "lifelong condition that can lead to many complications, including suicidal behavior."

Jones said Freeman's family first learned of his mental illness when he was diagnosed after his arrest on April 9 when he yelled and made obscene gestures at police near Fourth and Beale.

Misdemeanor charges against Freeman were dismissed, but Jones said he spent about a month at a mental health facility in the Medical Center area.

Jones said that Freeman was one of four children of a single mother living in Foote Homes, a public housing development less than a mile from Fourth and Beale.

He was quiet, kept to himself and didn't have a job, Jones said.

"I had never experienced him having a violent episode," she said.

And Jones said she hoped that explaining that Freeman had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia may help others.

Her brother and Freeman's uncle in Texas, Todd Jones, 43, was more critical of the police shooting.

"The police could have just tried to incapacitate or restrain first, before killing," Jones said by e-mail.

In September 1987, Memphis police officers repeatedly shot Joseph D. Robinson, 27, a man armed with a knife in the former LeMoyne Gardens public housing development in South Memphis. Called because Robinson was stabbing himself, police said that he repeatedly charged them. Officers fatally wounded him with several shots.

Working with the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill and others, the Memphis Police Department developed the Crisis Intervention Team program after the Robinson shooting. The department currently has 241 specially trained officers .

Answers about whether any CIT officers were involved with or called to the Freeman shooting weren't immediately available, police spokeswoman Sgt. Karen Rudolph said by e-mail. The officers involved in Freeman's shooting were routinely relieved of duty with pay pending the outcome of an investigation by the department.

Copyright 2012 The Commercial Appeal, Inc.

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