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Expert: 'Suicide by cop' likely in Ohio woman's death

The woman had cut herself and answered the door with a gun in her hand

By Theodore Decker
The Columbus Dispatch

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The actions of a Northwest Side woman who was shot and killed by Columbus police on Oct. 25 included "strong indicators" that she was intent on committing "suicide by cop," an expert in the phenomenon said.

"When a female subject becomes involved in a situation leading to an (officer-involved shooting), there is a very high likelihood that she is motivated to be intentionally killed," said Dr. Kris Mohandie, a police and forensic psychologist in Pasadena, Calif.

Columbus police have not released many specifics of the lethal encounter between officers and Julie Caudill at 6483 Ponset St. They had been sent there by her husband, who was out of town but called police because Mrs. Caudill, 43, was suicidal and potentially armed.

Timothy Caudill said he was told by a neighbor that his wife had cut herself, and he added that she owned a pink handgun.
"She answered the door with a gun," Sgt. David Pelphrey said last week.

Columbus police say they have shot at 14 people this year. Caudill was the third person to be killed.

Last year, police shot at 21 people and killed seven.

Mohandie and two other researchers reviewed 707 officer-involved shootings across the country and found that 36 percent could be classified as " suicide by cop," a term first used in 1983.

Most of those confrontations were not planned, he said.

The people "were self-destructive and suicidal, but they didn't wake up and say, 'Today's the day I'm going to force a police confrontation,'" he said.

Rather, he said, the common thinking was, "I'm going to seize this opportunity and escalate it so I can bring about my demise."

Although only 3 percent of those shot at by officers were women, 57 percent of those cases were " suicide by cop" shootings, Mohandie said.

In his call to 911, Timothy Caudill said his wife had talked about suicide before. "She's threatened to die by cops or whatever, but I don't think she's got that in her," he said.

Of the women identified as "suicide by cop" cases in Mohandie's 2011 study, more than 80 percent had talked about or expressed suicidal thoughts in the previous two months. Julie Caudill's specific mention of "suicide by cop" was much more unusual and revealing, he said.

Those who die that way posed serious risks not just to themselves but also to officers and bystanders, the study found.

The belief that people who are suicidal are a danger only to themselves is a misconception, Mohandie said.

"Those are very delicate situations," said Lt. Anne Ralston, a spokeswoman for the State Highway Patrol.

Jason Pappas, president of Fraternal Order of Police Capital City Lodge No. 9, said police training includes a focus that "people who are suicidal are often homicidal."

Officers are trained to deal with the mentally ill and will try to safely contain a suicidal person, Pappas said. But when confronted with someone who is armed, an officer might have less than a second to decide whether to use deadly force, he said.

"Your reaction is instantaneous," Pappas said. "There's just no time. That's just a sad reality, and you often don't know it's a 'suicide by cop' until sometimes later. We don't have the luxury of waiting to find out."

Gary Bush was an officer in South Charleston, W.Va., in 1994 when he confronted and killed a man during a domestic disturbance. The man had swung a rifle at him that turned out to be unloaded.

The shooting hastened the end of Bush's career and still haunts him. He has spoken about the shooting at law-enforcement conferences and for 11 years at Cincinnati's police academy.

Bush knows that he did what his training had conditioned him to do, but he could not put the shooting behind him.
"It's a whole different ballgame when at the end of that barrel is a human being," he said.

To reach the Franklin County Suicide Prevention Hotline, call 614-221-5445; the Teen Suicide Prevention Hotline, 614-294-3300; or the Lifeline national organization for suicide prevention, 1-800-273-8255.

Copyright 2013 The Columbus Dispatch

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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