An attorney representing the family of a young woman shot to death by a Sheriff’s deputy last weekend at a home between Clinton and Laurens says Kalah Shannon Gary, 26, would be alive if a mental health counselor had gone to the house with law enforcement.
Justin Bamberg told TV cameras last Wednesday that there needs to be a system where dispatchers know a call is coming from a house where there is someone with a mental illness, and that information is relayed to responding officers. A trained counselor takes the lead, and law enforcement is there as a back-up. Bamberg is a state representative and he indicated a willingness to craft state legislation to make that happen.
A video of Bamberg explaining what happened on May 21 to Kalah Gary after she called Laurens County 911 to report a nonexistent burglary at her home in the Woodberry community was posted on-line. With the family, he also played a video of Kalah singing and took questions from the TV journalists. “There ain’t but so much you can put on one profession,” Bamberg said of law enforcement officers, expected to serve as peacekeepers, mental health counselors, family law experts, and friends to the community.
Bamberg commended the Laurens County Sheriff’s Office for giving the Gary family the chance to see video of how Kalah was shot. That should happen all the time, within 72 hours, even if a law has to be passed to make it so - it shouldn’t be “optional” and at the discretion of the law enforcement agency, the attorney said.
Bamberg said Kalah Gary approached law enforcement responding to her call with a sharp object and then with a “burna” pellet-gun made to look like a real gun. She could not buy a firearm because, Bamberg said, she had previously been committed to a mental health facility but, somehow, she acquired a “burna.”
Bamberg said instruction manuals for real guns say specifically not made for people with mental illness - he said no such warning exists in the “burna” instruction manual.
Law enforcement officers hit Gary with a Taser and with less-than-lethal bean bag rounds, and she was knocked down. Then when she got back up, still holding the fake gun, she was shot and died.
Bamberg said the officer, whoever it is, will have to live with that for the rest of his/her life. “We wish they hadn’t have shot,” Bamberg said.
The shooting death - the 15th officer-involved shooting death in South Carolina so far this year - remains under SLED investigation. Nothing has been announced about Kalah Gary’s manner or cause of death; her funeral was held Sunday (May 28) at Faith Community Church, Clinton. There is a GoFundMe page in her honor.
Last Monday, representatives of the SC Black Activist Coalition and the New Black Panthers met with media in front of the Sheriff’s Office demanding “transparency” and the chance for the family to view body-cam and dash-cam video of the Saturday night, May 21 shooting. “Kalah’s family is in deep mourning and utter disbelief,” said family spokesman Derrick Quarles. “Kalah should still be here today.”
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