In the past decade Boston police were called to the South End home of a mentally ill man a dozen times — including once for harming himself with a pocket knife — before he was fatally shot by officers early Sunday morning, police said Monday.
But relatives and a neighbor dispute that 31-year-old Terrence Coleman was armed when police shot him dead in the doorway of his Shawmut Avenue home.
Eight years ago, Hope Coleman called police to report that her son, armed with a pocket knife, had cut himself. Terrence Coleman, who was diagnosed with paranoia and schizophrenia about 15 years ago, was off of his medication that day. Hope Coleman was worried he would harm himself, police said.
And two years prior, in November 2006, Hope Coleman walked into a police station and asked officers to remove her son from her home, police said. It was not clear why, but he had threatened to harm himself with a knife earlier that month and to “do battle with her,” police said. He was safely removed from the home and taken to Boston Medical Center to be evaluated.
Of the 12 times police officers responded to the home for domestic calls, four were related to Terrence Coleman.
On Sunday at 12:39 a.m. when Hope Coleman called for an ambulance after her son had been sitting on the stoop for nearly two days, she thought she was helping him.
“If I knew this was gonna happen, I wouldn’t have called for help,” Coleman, 60, said at her home through tears, her voice hoarse from crying. “It wasn’t meant for him to die.”
In two of the previous incidents at the home, one in 2010 and one last year, police said Terrence Coleman called officers to report that he had been robbed of bootleg pornographic movies.
Relatives and neighbors said Coleman, a quiet man, sold DVDs.
Just last year, police said Coleman called them to the home in October after an argument with his sister, who told police he was mentally ill. He told police he wanted his sister taken out of the home, police said. At his mother’s request, no one was removed.
This past weekend, Hope Coleman said she called the South End Community Health Center in preparation to bring her son to Tufts Medical Center at around midnight and was advised to call for an ambulance.
Police officers were asked to accompany EMTs to the apartment but Hope Coleman said she did not let the officers in because she feared that would agitate her son.
The officers, she said, waited outside the building’s front door. When EMTs asked Coleman to come with them, he complied, but before they made it outside, he changed his mind and said he didn’t want to get into the ambulance.
She said her son had a bottle of juice.
Hope Coleman said the two EMTs and her son were standing with her in a hallway near the front door when one of the EMTs raised his voice at him. That’s when, Hope Coleman said, police barged through the door, knocking her, the EMTs, and her son to the floor.
Each officer fired once and Coleman was struck twice, according to police.
Police said Terrence Coleman attacked the EMTs with a knife, and then turned on them. His mother said a kitchen knife lay on the table, but her son never picked it up.
A resident in the building who heard the shots and identified herself only as Mary, for fear of retribution, said she rushed down the steps and saw Terrence Coleman lying on the floor.
She said she did not see a knife near his body. A photo she took at the scene showed a plastic case full of CDs, DVD envelopes, a bag, and blood on the floor.
The Suffolk County district attorney’s office said Monday that the shooting was still under investigation.
Coleman said she wants the truth to come out.
Coleman’s niece, Shenell Smith, 50, said officers should have body cameras that could provide an unbiased look at what happened.
Boston police are about two months into a pilot program to test the devices with 100 officers wearing them, but not the two officers who shot Terrence Coleman.
Civil rights attorney Howard Friedman raised concern about the legality of what transpired, saying that Terrence Coleman had a right to refuse treatment unless a medical professional signed a form for involuntary commitment.
“You can say ‘No thank you’ and [the EMTs] can’t force you to go,” Friedman said.
But Sarah Wunsch, deputy legal director with the American Civil Liberties Union said the law allows for involuntary commitment of those who are a danger to themselves or others, but police are not allowed to use unreasonable force.
The Globe’s Spotlight team reported in July that nearly half of people killed by Massachusetts police over the past 11 years were suicidal, mentally ill, or showed clear signs of crisis. Twenty percent of Massachusetts police departments, including Boston, provide intensive crisis-intervention training known as the gold standard for dealing with people in mental health crisis.
Hope Coleman leaned her head in agony against a refrigerator in her apartment Monday, recalling her son as a loving man who looked out for her, adored his nieces and nephews, and was a fan of rap artist 50 Cent.
“I have no son,” she said, cradling herself. “It’s not fair.”