Man killed by SFPD had history of mental illness

The death of a man killed by San Francisco police inside a Portola neighborhood home Wednesday is the third fatal officer-involved shooting this year — and also the third involving confrontations with the mentally ill inside
their homes.

Police were called at 3:55 p.m. Wednesday after Vinh Bui, 46, stabbed a 15-year-old girl with a scalpel in the rear of the residence at 629 Bacon St., according to police Chief George Gascón. The wound was “not a deep cut.”

Officers entered the home and encountered the man, who was still holding the scalpel. They were able to communicate with Bui, who was bilingual and a “fluent English speaker,” and told him to drop the weapon, Gascón said.

When he refused and instead approached the officers, they opened fire, police said.

Bui was taken to San Francisco General Hospital where he was pronounced dead.

“I have to say that in my professional opinion, the officers acted lawfully in this case,” Gascón said after a preliminary investigation.

Police and family members said Bui had a long history of mental illness. A man at the home, who identified himself as Quan, confirmed that Bui had problems with mental illness, but said he did not witness the shooting.

Interacting with the mentally ill, especially when a situation can turn violent, has been an ongoing problem for the Police Department.

In a three-month period recently studied by the SFPD for a report on officer-involved shootings, San Francisco police responded to 843 separate incidents involving 638 individuals suffering mental health issues. That report found that of the 15 fatal officer-involved shootings since 2005, four involved the mentally ill.

One such shooting in 2008 left a schizophrenic woman with life-threatening injuries. Police say Teresa Sheehan rushed at officers with a steak knife inside her apartment. A jury all but cleared Sheehan of any criminal wrongdoing and a $10 million lawsuit is expected to go to trial in May.

In June, The San Francisco Examiner reported that the Police Department would discontinue outside training from the nonprofit Mental Health Board because of budget constraints.

However, at a recent meeting, the Police Commission decided to make mental health training a priority for the officers in 2011, according to Commissioner Angela Chan.

Mesha Monge-Irizarry, whose own mentally ill son was shot to death by police at the Metreon in 2001, has been advocating for better  training for officers.

“Police culture is about containment at all prices,” she said. “Also, there’s a certain mentality that at the end of the day, they only want to go home safely to their family.”

bbegin@sfexaminer.com

 

Use of force

Officer-involved shootings in 2010:

Jan. 23: Edward Smith, 65, killed after charging at police with a machete in what SFPD Chief George Gascón referred to as a “classic suicide-by-cop” case

Sept. 26: Michael Lee, 43, killed inside his Tenderloin residential hotel room after police say he charged at them with a weapon

Wednesday: Vinh Bui, 46, killed inside his Portola home after he stabbed a 15-year-old girl with a scalpel, then advanced toward officers with the weapon

 

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