On Sunday the parents of Melissa Boarts, 36, asked police officers to help protect their daughter. After threatening to take her life, Boarts drove an SUV onto Interstate 85, heading toward Auburn, Alabama. Her twin sister Melinda was able to track her using a GPS device and directed their parents, with Melissa's two-year-old daughter in tow, so they could trail her. They followed her but feared that they wouldn't make it to her in time. They knew she had a knife, and reasoned that if she cut herself and was bleeding, police had a better chance of reaching her in time to save her life.
The officers they called shot and killed Boarts. "There was absolutely no justification for it," Michael Boarts, Melissa's father and a former officer with the Alabama Department of Corrections, told the Associated Press. He added, "we are all in deep mourning."
Melissa's mother, Terry Boarts, explained to the police dispatcher she spoke to that Melissa, who had been diagnosed a bipolar manic depressive, was unwell. “I relayed to (police) that she was having mental issues—that she was bipolar, that she had been really depressed, that she was saying she was going to cut her wrists," Terry told the Montgomery Advertiser, adding, "we were thinking they would get her help."
In a statement obtained by WTVM, the Auburn Police Department said that Boarts was armed. "The female driver exited her vehicle armed with a weapon and charged the officers in a threatening manner, at which time the officers discharged their weapons, striking the driver."
Auburn police added, according to the Washington Post, that the incident was a tragic outlier, stating:
Officers within the Auburn Police Division have encountered thousands of situations involving those with weapons or individuals intending to harm themselves…it has been nearly 40 years since an Auburn Police Officer was required to use force that ended in the death of another. It is unfortunate when someone intends to harm themselves and involves law enforcement to do so.
Police said the shooting was a “tragedy for the Boarts family as well as the officers involved," adding that "officers within the Auburn Police Division are trained to deal with disturbed individuals and have experience in doing so.”
According to analysis from the Washington Post, there have been more than 1,100 incidents where police officers fatally shot someone since January 2015. In one quarter of those cases, the person killed was either suicidal or suffering from a mental health crisis. Media reports and videos showing police officers killing mentally ill people shine a light on the horrific details of each incident.
The State Bureau of Investigations, Macon County Sheriff’s Department, and Macon County Coroner’s Office are looking into the incident.
Michael, Terry and Melinda Boats, who assumed Melissa was killed in a car accident before police said they shot her, are seeking justice. Julian McPhillips, an attorney represent the Boats family, said his clients are planning to sue and that he's asked the police department to turn over footage from the police car's dash cam and the officers' body cameras. "We just think it was so unnecessary," McPhillips said of the deadly force used against Melissa, adding, "She had a pocket knife on her, and she's only 5 feet 4, maybe 130 pounds against these big old husky law enforcement officers. They could have Tased her or used a stick or something. They didn't need to shoot her."
Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.