Crime

The Last 911 Call: A Mentally Ill Dallas Man and the Cops Who Saved Him, Until They Didn't

The sanctuary of St. Paul United Methodist Church, a red-brick anachronism surrounded by the skyward steel and concrete of downtown Dallas, is small and tight — not nearly big enough to accommodate the swarm of people that poured into the city's oldest black church on a warm Monday night in August. Grieving family members and community activists milled in entryways and spilled from pews into aisles, their eyes fixed on the chancel, where the city's police chief and the county's district attorney and sheriff stood at a table, looking down and out onto the crowd about to boil over.

Nine days earlier, Darren Wilson, a white police officer, had shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, in Ferguson, Missouri. Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins, who'd organized that night's town hall meeting, maintained that his office had planned the event months before, but the timing was auspicious for many of the people assembled there, who hoped to talk about their own sons and brothers.

Watkins grabbed the microphone and walked to the platform's edge. "We're not Missouri," he said.

David Harrison sat up front that night. Tall and broad-shouldered, with a pockmarked face, a trim goatee and glasses, 44-year-old Harrison had never been much of an activist. But ever since one day a couple of months prior — the "game-changer," as he called it — he hadn't been able to concentrate on his job at a construction company. He played the events of 11:23 to 11:26 a.m. June 14 in his mind, then rewound them and played them again, trying to make sense of what happened. But he couldn't. The man police described in their incident report wasn't the brother he'd known for 38 years. His brother was gentle, nonthreatening. How did he do what they said he had?

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Sky Chadde
Contact: Sky Chadde