Jersey City’s mayor is defending his police department after officers shot and killed a man who officials say was experiencing a mental health crisis Sunday, saying they tried to de-escalate the situation before using deadly force.
But family members tell media they’re seeking answers, and that they only wanted help from mental health responders – not a violent encounter with police.
EMTs from the Jersey City Medical Center were at the home to provide emergency health care for Andrew Jerome Washington, city officials said at a press conference Monday morning. At around 2:20 p.m., Mayor Steven Fulop said, the medical workers called police for help because they did not feel safe going into the home.
Officers from the Jersey City Police Department responded to the scene and then requested backup from the department’s emergency service unit, which receives special training for encounters involving “people in emotional crisis,” according to Public Safety Director James Shea.
The mayor, who reviewed body camera footage of the incident, said police spent about an hour “engaging” with Washington, 52. But at about 3:30, Fulop said, officers thought he may harm himself or someone else and decided to enter the apartment. When they opened the door, he said, Washington ran at the officers with a knife.
One officer fired his gun, the state Attorney General’s Office said in a press release. Fulop said an officer also used a taser. He didn’t specify the exact order of events.
“Everything prior to that was in line with communications that was taught at the Jersey City Police Department and de-escalation training,” the mayor said. Fulop, a Democrat, is the only declared candidate in the 2025 governor’s race.
After the shooting, first responders took Washington to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead shortly before 5 p.m.
The AG’s office is investigating the shooting, as required by law for all fatal encounters with police in New Jersey. Fulop said he is asking the attorney general to expedite the investigation and release body camera footage of the incident as quickly as possible.
Officials have not named the officers. Shea said both have been members of the emergency service unit for several years and attended an eight-month training program in New York City, in addition to their training in New Jersey.
The mayor and the public safety director both defended the officers’ actions and said they thought the use of force was justified.
Shea said the officers had followed protocol by the same steps he learned as an emergency psychiatric technician. They spoke compassionately, attempted to establish rapport, tried to get family members to speak to Washington, and asked if he wanted to speak to medical professionals or other officers who might know him better, according to Shea, adding they tried to assure the man they were only there to make sure he was OK.
“I’m very comfortable with the tactics we used,” Shea said. “I just wish they had ended differently, like they do almost every time.”
In 2022, Shea said, the emergency service unit responded to 1,868 calls to assist an “emotionally disturbed person” — a non-clinical term police use to describe someone they believe is in the midst of a mental health crisis. He said officers used force 41 times, and three suspects were injured.
Mental health call turns violent
Family members told PIX11 and WABC-TV that Washington had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and they suspected he wasn’t taking his medication. Two aunts told PIX 11 he’d suffered long-standing mental health issues, and had been acting strangely for days, talking loudly to himself and banging on apartment walls.
They said they called for help because they feared he would hurt himself but didn’t expect a violent confrontation with police, according to the PIX11 report.
Officials said Washington had a “violent history” and had interacted with police in the past but did not provide many details. Family members also said he’d had past encounters with mental health services and police. Shea said Washington had been safely taken to the medical center a couple weeks earlier.
Several New Jersey communities, including some in Cumberland, Union and Atlantic counties, now send mental health clinicians along with plainclothes police to some 911 calls, when officials believe the person needs mental health care. The program making those pairings, called ARRIVE Together, is not currently in Jersey City, though Platkin and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy say they eventually hope to take it statewide. The program expanded to Newark in June.
Some New Jersey reformers, such as the the Rev. Charles Boyer of organization Salvation and Social Justice, advocate instead for civilian-only crisis response teams.
Shea called it a “mistaken impression” that bringing a mental health worker is appropriate in every case.
“We can only introduce an unarmed civilian into this job if the area is secure,” he said. “And in this case, it was not secure. The medical center made that determination themselves before they even called us.”
In March, police in Paterson, New Jersey shot and killed 31-year-old Najee Seabrooks during what police and community groups described as a mental health crisis at his home. Seabrooks had been part of the Paterson Healing Collective, a hospital-based violence intervention program, and several activists questioned why members of the collective weren’t allowed to intervene during the incident.
Seabrooks’ death set off a wave of protests from community members who said the police response unnecessarily escalated the situation. It was also followed shortly by a letter by the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice — which includes former state attorney general John J. Farmer and former U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman on its board — seeking a federal investigation after years of controversies, including high-profile cases of misconduct and corruption. The state Attorney General’s Office has since taken over the department.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by PostX News and is published from a syndicated feed.)