Mentally ill Cleveland woman’s death by police ruled homicide

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The death of Cleveland woman Tanisha Anderson – who was in the midst of being detained after police physically restrained her during a mental health call by her family – has been ruled a homicide by the county medical examiner.

The Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s office made the announcement on Friday, ruling that Anderson experienced “sudden death associated with physical restraint in a prone position.” The office also said heart disease and bipolar disease were factors contributing to her death, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported.

The incident happened on November 13, when Anderson’s family called police explaining she was creating a disturbance. The 37-year-old African American woman was mentally ill and suffered from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. After police came to the house, a discussion followed in which it was agreed that Anderson would go to a hospital for an evaluation.

Police reports and witnesses agreed up to that point, but not on what happened during the arrest.

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At the time, the family said the police went too far, during a struggle, one of them slammed Anderson to the sidewalk, where she died.

They killed my sister,” Tanisha’s brother Joell Anderson told the Plain Dealer with tears in his eyes shortly after the incident happened. “I watched it.

Meanwhile, police said they escorted Anderson to a police vehicle, where she began to actively resist them. Officers placed her in handcuffs and tried to put her in the back of the squad car. Police then say she began kicking at officers and, a short time later, the woman stopped struggling and appeared to go limp. They checked her pulse and called EMS.

Joell Anderson agreed that two male officers escorted his sister to the car, but said she sat herself in the back seat before she became nervous about the confined space and tried to get out. Police struggled to keep her in the car and an officer eventually drew a Taser. He said he begged the officer not to use the weapon on his sister. His sister called out for her brother and mother while an officer repeatedly pressed down on her head to get her into the backseat. After several attempts, the officer allegedly used a takedown move to force her to the pavement.

The officer placed his knee on Tanesha’s back and handcuffed her. She never opened her eyes or spoke another word,” said Joell Anderson.

The Cleveland Police Department’s Use of Deadly Force Investigation Team continues to probe the incident and have not decided whether the officer’s use of force was justified. A police spokesman said the officers involved in the case have been placed on restrictive duty.

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Anderson’s death is also part of a Justice Department investigation that found the Cleveland police are not properly trained to handle encounters with people suffering from mental illnesses. Specifically, the 58-page report found they are not trained in de-escalation techniques and wind up using excessive force too often. What isn’t known is whether the officers involved in Anderson’s death were among the department’s 400 certified crisis intervention officers.

The Anderson family is demanding "a thorough criminal investigation and an independent prosecutor that results in accountability by the police officers and the Cleveland police department."

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Anderson has been held up by protestors as an example of police violence alongside Tamir Rice, Michael Brown and Eric Garner, among others.