Slaying by police stuns kin of victim Woman, 64, who was shot was mentally ill, former husband says

January 14, 1996|By Kris Antonelli and Anne Haddad | Kris Antonelli and Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

The shooting death of Betty Keat by Baltimore police Friday night has left some of her neighbors shocked, some relatives angry, and her former husband bemoaning the lack of care available to mentally ill people in Maryland.

Mrs. Keat, 64, who lived in a two-story stone house in the 300 block of Taplow Road in Homeland for 27 years, was shot after police entered her home and sprayed her with tear gas twice while ordering her to drop a steak knife she pointed at them. When she didn't, two of the four officers fired, hitting her twice in the torso, police said.

Police were called by neighbors who said Mrs. Keat tossed bottles containing unlighted matches and an undetermined flammable liquid into their yards

"We are outraged at [the police officers'] behavior. It's like shooting a dog," said Mrs. Keat's sister, Janet Beyers of Norfolk, Va.

"The officers had gone to the house with the sole intent of helping her," Agent Robert W. Weinhold Jr., a police spokesman, said. "They made every effort to get her to drop the knife."

The two officers who fired at Mrs. Keat have been placed on administrative duties until an investigation into the shooting is complete, Agent Weinhold said.

Police arrived at Mrs. Keat's home about 5:30 p.m. Friday, knocked on the door and left, when there was no response, to obtain papers to have doctors evaluate her mental health.

Police returned about 6:45 p.m. without the papers, but entered Mrs. Keat's home through an open window after detecting a gasoline-like odor.

"I am going to reserve judgment against the police," said James Keat, a retired Sun editor whose marriage to Mrs. Keat ended in 1983. "She was in Springfield [Hospital Center, a psychiatric facility] at least a dozen times. It was a revolving door. There was no support system. She did not need to be incarcerated but she did need someone to come into her home whether she wanted them to or not."

Mrs. Keat was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Hunter College in New York City. She earned a master's degree in Southern Asian studies from the University of Pennsylvania and then a Ford Foundation Overseas Training Fellowship to study in India.

While in India, Mrs. Keat began to show symptoms of mental illness. Eventually, she was hospitalized for a year in New York, Mr. Keat said. She moved later to Baltimore with her husband and until the mid-1980s, she was a sociology and anthropology professor at Morgan State University -- all the while controlling her illnesses, manic depression and paranoid schizophrenia, with medication, he said.

The problem throughout her illness, Mr. Keat said, was monitoring her dosage and making sure she took it. "After a while, she would need to increase the dosage," he said. "Well, there was no one there from the hospital or clinic to make her do it."

William McDaniel, who lived across the street, said: "We went to therapy with her so she would learn not to be afraid of us." But it was unsuccessful.

Neighbors said her behavior sometimes was unpredictable. Many were shocked to learn of the circumstances of her death.

In February, after being hospitalized for about a year, she returned home to Taplow Road.

Paul Moore, another neighbor, said he was stunned to hear of Mrs. Keat's death. "But it became clear that in the eyes of those who were there, she appeared dangerous," he said. "She was not a small woman. She was a large woman."

"It's a sad ending to a tragic life," he said.

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