Mr Tony Wilson Did Not Have to Die

July 28, 2020

Mr Tony Wilson’s fatal encounter with the National City Police occurred on September 19th of 2019, before COVID, before Mr George Floyd, before so much that has finally brought police violence into the focus it deserves.  The case is back in the news because of a Public Records Act request made by NBC San Diego, and the subsequent release of the footage from the officers’ body cameras.

How sad that our local law enforcement agencies were still discussing their de-escalation  “philosophy” the night Mr Wilson was arrested.  How sad that they did not have de-escalation policies and procedures in place then.  This would have been a perfect time to use de-escalation.  Mr Wilson was obeying the officers; had they slowed down, had they given him a chance, he might be alive today.

Rather than practice de-escalation, which was an option is not a prescription, the force they used was unnecessary and excessive, by any reasonable standard. Despite his obedience, they jumped on him, smashing his face to the ground, and one of the officers tazed him five times in just 60 seconds.  The stress was simply too much for Mr Wilson, and after that all-too-familiar “I can breathe” and “help me” he fell silent forever.

This would also have been a perfect time for a PERT team.  San Diego law enforcement has a terrible record when it comes to the mentally ill, but one of the few bright spots are the PERT Teams.  When PERT is there, when PERT is allowed to take the lead, better decisions are made, and fewer brothers, fathers, sisters and mothers grieve the loss of their troubled family members.

The County of San Diego needs to increase funding for the mental health services we need; they must not put it off until COVID passes.  COVID makes mental health care so much more necessary!  They need to make sure there is PERT training available.  They need to make sure people like Mr Wilson can get help without having to have an encounter with the police.

As for National City, their Police Chief makes much of their newfound interest in de-escalation.  To him we say, we are watching you.  National City is the 2nd oldest Police Department in the County, and they have a history of interactions with unarmed people in mental crisis ending in death.  Let’s see if anything changes, or if you are just paying lip service to try to deflect our attention.

Francine Maxwell, President
NAACP San Diego Branch