Princess Blanding, the sister of Peters, believes her brother would still be alive if proper mental health training and professionals were readily available to deescalate the situation.
Peters, a Virginia Commonwealth University graduate and 24-year old high school teacher, suffered a mental health crisis on May 14, 2018 — the day he was killed.
Body camera footage released by the Richmond Police Department shows Peters unclothed, running into oncoming traffic on Interstate-95 in downtown Richmond. He is seen doing snow angels on the ground with his arms and legs flailing around. At one point he is hit by a car.
A responding officer is heard on video verbally acknowledging Peters’ mental state saying, “the male seems to be mentally unstable as we speak.”
After tasing was ineffective, Richmond Officer Michael Nyantakyi fatally shoots Peters after Peters is seen lunging towards him.
“He was undressed, he was unarmed, he needed help not death,” said Blanding.
Blanding says she realizes that nothing will bring her brother back, but wants to make sure this type of incident doesn’t happen to anyone else.
The Richmond Police Department ruled the shooting “justifiable,” but Peters’ family and some members of the Richmond community have been vocal that they don’t agree. A petition for city officials to enact more civilian oversight and the Marcus Alert got over 74,000 signatures.
For the past two years, supporters and family members have led marches, informational sessions and meetings about change and justice for Peters. A big push has been for the Marcus Alert, which advocates for intervention not lethal force.
“If we had a team of experts to be the first responders to the scene, then my brothers life would have been preserved,” Blanding told 8News.
The Marcus Alert would dispatch a team of mental health professionals along with police officers in a crisis situations. Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney has recently endorsed the alert.
“We have to make the crisis alert, the Marcus Alert happen in this city,” Stoney said while speaking at the ‘Call to Action: Justice for All’ news conference last week.
The alert system would also include more crisis intervention training and a civilian review board. The board would be made up of community members and it would be their responsibility to review police actions in the field.
“With a civilian review board, it holds our officers accountable to not resorting back to deadly force,” said Blanding. “It shifts the power to the people.”
The Virginia Association of Police Chiefs reports that at least 25 percent of deadly force encounters nationwide, involve people suffering from mental illness or crisis.
On Tuesday, members of the association met with Governor Ralph Northam to discuss their recommendations on how to move forward with law enforcement in Virginia. The report has a section specifically about mental health.
The recommendations are listed below:
1.) Provide adequate funding for all sworn law enforcement officers to receive basic and advanced
Crisis Intervention Training.
2.) Support the creation of co-response programs utilizing mental health professionals, depending
on the resources of the community.
3.) Crisis Intervention Training is critical for campus law enforcement and security officers who
interact with college students in crisis. Suicide and mental health issues are under-recognized
problems on college campuses.
8News reached out to the Richmond Police Department for a response to the Marcus Alert. Police Chief Will Smith released a statement saying:
The Mayor’s staff and I have been working on this project for several months, including providing budget support for additional mental health services that would be paired with Police Officers. Unfortunately, due to the COVID crisis, that funding has been removed. We are proceeding with the development of the alert program, which does not require the additional funding needed for expanded mental health services.”Richmond Police Chief Will Smith
The Family of Peters’ told 8News that after a two-year push, Mayor Stoney has reached out to them about setting up a meeting about the alert system.
“Now Stoney is speaking and seeing only because the pressure is on,” Blanding says. “He sees the wave that is going on around the nation. The death of George Floyd was the last straw.”
On top of advocating for the Marcus Alert, Blanding is working to reopen her brother’s case and wants the officer involved to be held accountable.
8News reached out to the Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Colette McEachin to see if she is considering it, but have not heard back.