One day a few months ago I was doing some research on local veterans for a piece I was writing. As I scrolled through local news stories, one in particular caught my eye!
I started reading and couldn’t stop crying. This was a story about a local Vietnam Veteran who suffered from mental illness (most probably induced from being in Vietnam), who was shot and killed while he stood in side his house. Now, to be completely fair, he did have a firearm, but you have to dig a little deeper to find out what really happened and what caused this mild mannered man (by all accounts) to be standing in his kitchen holding a firearm, and then being fatally wounded by local police.
Marshall Franklin of Portsmouth Virginia served his country and did two tours in Vietnam. According to his family (Marshall had 9 brothers and sisters), Marshall was a creative man and had a gift for painting and making crafts. But when he came back from Vietnam, they say he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
He didn’t like to take his medicine because he said it stifled his creativity, so he didn’t always take it according to Marshal’s sister Alberta. Having nearly three decades experience working with mental health patients, Alberta says she knew what should have happened. So when she found out Marshall wasn’t taking his meds, she called the community services board and was sure he would get the hep he needed. However, that is not at all what happened.
Before police officers surrounded the home of Marshall Franklin and a SWAT team moved in, all Franklin’s family could do was watch. The standoff ended with two officers shot and Franklin dead, a scenario, Franklin’s family says that could have been avoided. That is, if they ever got a chance to talk to him.
So when her brother Marshall – who’d been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress syndrome – wasn’t taking his meds, she called the community services board and was confident he’d get help.
However that wasn’t what happened.
According to a police summary of that day filed in court – “mental health was on scene” and told police the suspect “came at her with some type of sharp object.” It goes on to say officers saw Marshall with a “shank to his throat.” When police tried to take him into custody, they said Marshall lunged at them with the weapon. SWAT was called. More than 20 officers showed up at the home, and snipers were positioned on homes across from Marshall’s. Canine units were also called and arrived at the home. Seems a little excessive to me!
Marshall did not have a phone inside the house and Police were informed about this by the family.
Interestingly, according to a deposition taken in May by a high ranking police lieutenant and training director, in this incident “mental health may not have even been on site yet.” Also, the mental health worker said in her deposition in June 2015 that she never assessed Marshall, and that an officer and a deputy were already there when she arrived. In fact, she said it was police who told her Marshall had a knife.
Also, according to a lawsuit filed by the family, there is no definitive evidence that Marshall fired the shotgun found next to his body or that the shotgun shells are even from that gun. While he did have guns and ammunition in the house , his family says he and his brother who lived with him in the house were avid hunters, and that is what the shotguns were used for.
To make matters worse, dozens of police showed up and surrounded the house, yet the family was not allowed to talk with Marshall, or have any contact with him. “He was blocked off from every single thing that he knew,” said his sister, Tony Franklin Dixon, “the people who loved him, the people who he trusted. He was not allowed to talk with us at all.” According to Marshall’s son, “When I got there,I asked them to let me talk to my father. But they wouldn’t let me go in there at all.” “He died thinking that his family neglected him, didn’t care about him, and he was alone,” added Juanita Ebron, one of his other sisters.
When SWAT showed up at the home, they threw a negotiation phone in the house to talk to him. His family says it would have only worsened his condition.
“If you’ve got a person dealing with paranoia and post-traumatic stress and you’ve got bomb squads and people are throwing phones through your window,” said his sister, “obviously you’re going to go into a combat mode. Wouldn’t you think? And that’s what happened.”
Training the Portsmouth police better could have avoided this situation from escalating to the point that a man was killed and two officers were wounded (likely from friendly fire). Police Chief Ed Hargis has been named in the suit. He has since “retired” from Portsmouth and is now the Police Chief in Frederick Maryland. Interestingly in Frederick he has implemented the very programs that could have saved Marshall’s life.
The family is suing for $1.5 million claiming the former Police Chief Ed Hargis and his officers are responsible for Marshall’s death and they were negligent in handling someone with mental illness. “I would like for them to admit that they were wrong and they didn’t follow policies or procedures in this matter,” Yvonne said.
It will be up to a jury to decide the final outcome.
Here is a statement from the family:
“First of all, we are thankful to God that the injuries of the two police officers were not life threatening. However, this incident demonstrates the lack of training and knowledge that the police officers have with working with the mentally ill population and those individuals who suffer with issues of post-traumatic stress syndrome after serving in the Vietnam War and military forces. A mental health evaluation was requested to seek assistance with getting our brother back on his medication. This matter was taken from a mental health screening request to a criminal matter before any shots were fired or any officers were injured. His rights were violated, because he was at his home and he entered his property, which was his right. No petition had been filed with the magistrate at this time; therefore, the police should have left the scene until a family member could have invited mental health evaluators into the home to complete the assessment. Officers would not permit family members, i.e., hisuncle who lives several houses down or his son who was on site at the time to talk with him to deescalate the matter. Instead the Portsmouth Police Department called 55 additional police officers, swat team, snipers, bomb squad, and military to handle one 60 year old man (soon to be 61 had he reached his birthday on March 5) suffering with paranoia and post traumatic stress syndrome. Police surrounded the home and invaded him causing him to go into a combat mode due to feeling the need to protect himself . Even after his death, family members were not notified by the Portsmouth Police Department even though detectives were stationed outside of nearby family member’s home where family was gathered. We were notified by the local news and family and friends calling to express condolences. This indeed is a tragedy for our mental health system especially following the incidents that occurred at Virginia Tech when people did not respond to warning signs and the need for a mental health evaluation. Mental illness and post traumatic stress syndrome affects many if not most families. We pray that this incident will not prevent other families from seeking mental health evaluations for fear that it will result in the death of the family member. He could have been your brother, father, uncle, nephew, grandfather or maybe just your neighbor. He was a hunter, artist, skilled craftsmen, builder, and a member and usher of the Garden of Prayer Temple #4 in Portsmouth. We plan to seek assistance from our Regional Mental Health Advocate and the Virginia Office of State Protection and Advocacy. We are also seeking any attorney who will assist the family with resolving this matter. We would like to thank the community for your prayers and your support during this difficult time.”
And finally this report done by Wavy 10, a local station here in Southeast Virginia.