INDIANAPOLIS — When an IMPD SWAT officer fatally wounded Kendall Gilbert outside of a home on the Indy’s northwest side Sunday night, it reminded Pamela Wooden of a day several years ago when officers shot her son to death while he was in the midst of a mental health crisis.
”It was very heartbreaking,” Wooden said. “It was sad. It brought back so many memories of what happened with my son, Christopher Goodlow, in 2015, December 12th.”
Goodlow was shot as he lunged at a responding officer who was investigating a report of a man armed with a knife who was cutting himself in the parking lot of a northeast side apartment complex.
Gilbert was shot last night after three days of frantic family phone calls to 911 and fruitless visits by IMPD officers. The 40-year-old man, whose family said he was schizophrenic, ultimately barricaded himself in his bedroom, then threatened to burn down the house, assault loved ones and “make war” on police.
On Friday afternoon, the family called for help, and responding officers determined that, while Gilbert was secluded in his bedroom, he was not a danger and no report was filed.
Early Saturday morning, officers were called again as the family said Gilbert was destroying his room. No report was filed following the incident because he was once again determined not to be a danger.
Saturday night, police were dispatched again because the 911 caller said Gilbert was threatening to decapitate his family members.
IMPD officers provided the family with mental health resource information because, again, Gilbert would not leave his room and was determined not to be an immediate danger to himself or his family.
Late Sunday afternoon, the family reported that Gilbert was hallucinating and threatening to burn down the house.
Some family members left, but ninety minutes later, a woman inside the house pushed a panic button and reported that Gilbert threatened to kill her.
Officers responded and evacuated two women from the house and attempted to contact Gilbert.
“When officers responded to the scene, they found an adult male outside near the front door of the house,” said IMPD Lt. Shane Foley. “Officers approached and observed the man to have a machete.
Foley added that Gilbert was making threats to officers before crisis negotiators and a psychologist were able to make contact with him.
“Multiple negotiators spoke with the man,” Foley said. Unfortunately, they were not able to have any meaningful communication with the individual.”
Foley said, after more than two hours, even as Gilbert continued to menace officers with the machete and verbally challenge them, SWAT team officers attempted to distract him with a concussive device and apply an electric stun gadget. Pepper balls and bean bag projectiles were also utilized to no avail.
“As this event continued, the male who was armed charged toward the officers and reportedly got as close to actually touching one of the ballistic shields that an officer was holding,” said Foley, “and an officer discharged his firearm resulting in a gunshot wound to the male.”
Video of the conclusion of the incident captured the sound of three shots being fired.
Officers and responding EMS crews applied emergency medical care, but Gilbert was pronounced dead at Eskenazi Medical Center as a result of his wounds.
Police found Gilbert was armed with a second knife.
”I can imagine what that family was going through because there was so many times I cried out for help for Christopher, and I got the same results,” Wooden said. ”I can only imagine how this family is feeling. It is sad to see your loved one with this kind of sickness, and we can’t get help, help without ending in death.”
IMPD’s General Order 1.30 Use of Force Principles directs officers to utilize de-escalation techniques, seek alternative resources and apply non-lethal means whenever possible in responding to an incident of an armed person or a person who may commit violence directed toward officers or other persons.
IMPD said it tried all of those techniques before the fatal shots were fired.
”There’s something else that needed to be done, and when they cried out for help on Friday, someone should’ve came there and at least went in there to talk him to come out or talk through the window,” Wooden said. “They should’ve said something on Friday, maybe all this would’ve been prevented.
”They could’ve had him waterhosed down by the fire department, anything, and when they’re up that close and he’s coming that close, where is your rubber bullets, where is something else to get this young man some help?”
In spring 2022, IMPD officers were called to the home of Herman Whitfield III by parents who were alarmed at a mental health crisis that left the man alternately manic and catatonic in the middle of the night.
While Whitfield had committed no crime, officers attempted to control him with the use of an electric stun device and handcuffing, leaving the man in the prone position from which he perished by asphyxiation.
Two IMPD officers face criminal charges in Whitfield’s death.
In 2021, IMPD launched a pilot program with a Bolawrap device, which projects a net to tangle up a combative armed person. Police even deployed the device successfully one night to apprehend a man in a substance abuse crisis. The department, however, could not answer whether the pilot program became permanent, if officers throughout the city have access to such a device or if was considered an appropriate response at the Gilbert home.
IMPD operates MCAT, a mobile response team that pairs an officer with a mental health professional between the hours of 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. citywide.
“But if its outside the hours of MCAT, IMPD will respond,” said Martine Romy Bernard-Tucker, Director of the Office of Public Health & Safety.
IMPD’s Downtown District can also call on a Clinician-Led Community Response Team for mental health crisis calls from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. but only within the Mile Square.
Short of police intervention, families have the option to have the person transported to the city’s Assessment Intervention Center for immediate shelter and treatment.
”The programs that we have at the Assessment Intervention Center and the clinician team … the whole purpose of it is to make sure that people are getting the help, first of all, as quickly as they can, but also by licensed professionals whose job is to get people to those next steps,” Bernard-Tucker said.
Wooden said she still grieves for her son and now wonders what could have been done to save another woman’s child in the throes of a mental health crisis.
”I see that a lot of changes have been made and a lot of resources have been coming about,” Wooden said. “I thank God for that because I pray for that because it needed more and better resources because, for a time when I was fighting for a couple years to get my son Christopher proper help, it took me a while just to get disappointed by our system, his mental program and the police department, and, yes, I see a lot of positive things also.”