Police in US Washington state shoot dead 'suicidal' pregnant woman whom they say had a handgun

Ms Renee Davis was struck at least once when police opened fire, and was found dead at the scene.
Ms Renee Davis was struck at least once when police opened fire, and was found dead at the scene.PHOTO: TWITTER / @KOMO_UNIT14

WASHINGTON (WASHINGTON POST) - Ms Renee Davis, a 23-year-old mother of three, was at her home on the Muckleshoot Indian Reservation in Auburn, Washington, last Friday (Oct 21) evening when sheriff's deputies came knocking.

Someone had called to report that Ms Davis, who was five months' pregnant, was suicidal and armed with a gun, according to the Seattle Times. When deputies arrived to conduct a welfare check, no one at the house answered the door, the King County Sheriff's office said. They knocked again. Nothing.

Inside, deputies could see two young children running around, the sheriff's office said. When they entered the house, they found Ms Davis with a handgun.

What happened next is unclear, but at some point two deputies opened fire on Ms Davis, striking her at least once, the Times reported. She was pronounced dead on the scene.

Ms Davis, described by a relative as Native American, is one of at least 776 people shot and killed by the police so far in 2016, just 32 of them women, according to a Washington Post database tracking police shootings.

Of those women, 13 were listed as mentally ill, according to The Post's database. The shooting comes at a time when police around the country have faced intense scrutiny over use of force, particularly in confrontations with people who are mentally ill or suicidal.

Ms Davis' foster sister Danielle Bargala said Ms Davis was at home with her two- and three-year-old children when deputies arrived, and her five-year-old was with relatives.

Ms Bargala told the Times that Ms Davis had suffered from depression in the past and that she had texted someone last Friday evening to say she was feeling distraught. That person asked the police to go check on her, Ms Bargala said.

"It's really upsetting because it was a wellness check," she said. "Obviously, she didn't come out of it well."

Ms Davis was not a violent person, Ms Bargala told the Times, adding that she never even knew her to punish her children harshly. Ms Bargala said Ms Davis owned a hunting rifle that she used to shoot elk and deer, but did not realise she had a handgun.

She was five months' pregnant when she died, Ms Bargala said."She was such a soft person," she added.

The King County Sheriff's Office said deputies responded to Ms Davis' house at 6.30pm last Friday after receiving a call about an armed woman who was suicidal with two children in the house.

"They tried repeatedly to get somebody to come to the door, nobody did," Sgt Cindi West said. "But, they could see the two kids running around inside then house."

"They found her in the house and she was armed with a handgun," Sgt West said.

Both of the deputies have been placed on paid administrative leave pending an investigation, which is typical for an officer-involved shooting.

One is an eight-year veteran who works on the reservation, and the other is a three-year veteran, according to the Times.

The sheriff's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Sunday.

The shooting of Ms Davis came the same week that officials in New York City criticised a police sergeant who shot and killed a 66-year-old woman with schizophrenia. Police responded to Ms Deborah Danner's apartment in the Bronx after receiving a report about an "emotionally disturbed person".

The authorities said the sergeant opened fire on Ms Danner because she tried to hit him with a baseball bat, as reported by The Post.

The shooting prompted responses from New York Police Commissioner James O'Neill, who said of the incident, "we failed".

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, also criticised the attack, and other officials questioned whether the sergeant should have used his Taser instead of his gun.

"The shooting of Deborah Danner is tragic and it is unacceptable," Mr de Blasio said during a news conference on Wednesday afternoon. "It should never have happened. It's as simple as that. It should never have happened."

Shortly after Ms Danner died, one of her personal essays surfaced, the Associated Press reported. In it, she described her battle with schizophrenia and anguish over the deaths of mentally ill people in encounters with police.

"We are all aware," she wrote, "of the all too frequent news stories about the mentally ill who come up against law enforcement instead of mental health professionals and end up dead."