Officers say '96 killing of woman was justified

Mentally ill Homeland resident's estate sues

February 13, 1999|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

Two city police officers testified yesterday that they shot a knife-wielding, mentally ill woman in the living room of her North Baltimore home because they believed that she was about to kill or seriously wound a colleague.

Betty Keat, who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and manic depression, was killed in the encounter at her Homeland home three years ago. Her estate has filed a multimillion-dollar wrongful death civil suit against six officers involved in the incident, charging that they entered her house improperly and used excessive force to subdue her.

Officer Scott Dickson testified that he fired twice at Keat when he realized her advance toward Officer Phillip Lassahn was not being slowed by a stream of pepper spray and he felt Lassahn was in "imminent danger."

Dickson said Keat was about five feet away from Lassahn when he fired.

"I yelled multiple times to her to stop and drop the knife," Dickson said.

Another officer, Manuel Eldridge Jr., said he decided to fire "when I realized [Keat] wasn't going to stop and if she didn't she could seriously injure Officer Lassahn."

Two of the three bullets struck Keat, killing her virtually instantly.

The trial, before Baltimore Circuit Judge Thomas E. Noel and a jury of two men and four women, resumes Tuesday.

Lassahn, who had a can of pepper spray in one hand and his revolver in the other, said he was beginning to raise his weapon when Keat was shot.

Marla Outlaw, a fourth officer in the living room who has since left the force, said she had her weapon raised but did not fire it because she felt Dickson and Eldridge were in her line of sight.

The four officers are the only witnesses to the fatal shooting of Keat, who was 63 at the time of her death and had a long history of mental illness.

Police were responding to a 911 call from a neighbor, who reported that Keat had thrown Molotov cocktails on her lawn and against the side of her house and had been walking the streets with a sickle.

The four officers are being sued by Keat's estate along with Officer Robert X. Brooks, who also responded to the call but remained outside the house, and Lt. Sandra M. Joyce, a shift commander in the Northern District who was consulted before the police broke a living room window and entered the house.

In questioning the officers, Anton J. S. Keating, a lawyer for Keat's estate, sought to minimize the danger posed by the Molotov cocktails and suggested police didn't have the right to enter the house without a warrant or emergency petition for hospitalization and should have left the house before confronting Keat.

He also elicited discrepancies in when the officers drew the guns. Eldridge testified that no one drew a weapon until Keat came into the living room with a knife, but other officers said they pulled out their weapons when they heard Keat descend from the third-floor attic, where she spent most of her time.

In other testimony, the neighbor who placed the 911 call detailed a pattern of erratic behavior in the 11 years she lived next door to Keat. The neighbor, Theresa McDaniel, said Keat attacked her husband with a crowbar, set her lawn on fire and yelled obscenities at her 8-year-old daughter.

"I told [the officers] she was dangerous," McDaniel testified.

Pub Date: 2/13/99

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