Melissa Boarts’s family was frantic to find her. They said the 36-year-old suffered from manic depression and had been threatening to slit her wrists when she jumped into her car Sunday and went for a drive down Interstate 85, toward Auburn, Ala. Her twin told the Montgomery Advertiser that she started tracking her sister’s movements via GPS and calling out the route to their parents. At one point, they caught a glimpse of her SUV before she disappeared.
Finally, she stopped. “We were afraid she was going to hurt herself,” her mother, Terry Boarts, told the newspaper. “We figured she was going to bleed out right there.” The parents called 911 for help. But instead of assisting, “police ended up putting a bullet in her,” they said in a statement issued by the family’s attorney. Auburn police said Melissa Boarts charged at them with an unidentified weapon Sunday, prompting an officer to open fire and kill her.
Now the family is pursuing legal action. Julian McPhillips, the attorney for the family, told The Washington Post on Tuesday that the parents believe Boarts may have had a pocket knife — “but certainly no gun” — and argued that shooting her was “totally unjustified.” “They are all deeply mourning and deeply hurt,” McPhillips said of her family. Boarts is one of at least 262 people who have been fatally shot by police so far in 2016, according to a Washington Post database. At least 41 of those killed by police were carrying a knife or other blade, and about a quarter of all police shooting victims were mentally ill or experiencing an emotional crisis.
People with untreated mental illness are 16 times as likely to be killed during a police encounter as other civilians approached or stopped by law enforcement, according to a study from the Treatment Advocacy Center. McPhillips said the Boarts family intends to pursue the case “very vigorously,” demanding dash-camera and body-camera footage from the scene. “It’s difficult to get true justice,” he said, “because you can’t bring somebody back to life.”