When her 41-year-old son moved to Los Angeles from Indiana in pursuit of an acting career last year, Janice Williams was a little worried.
“Out here in LA, would they be educated enough to deal with someone mentally ill if something were to happen to him,” she told KPCC.
Her son – Dennis Todd Rogers – was fine most of the of the time, as long as he took his medication, she said. Williams would not describe her son’s mental illness nor the medication he took.
Her concern for her son grew when Rogers called her in March.
“Ma, I don’t have the money to get my medication,” she recalled her son saying. “I really need to get medication.”
A couple of days later, as she and others in the family back in Indiana scrambled to find money to help buy him the medication, Rogers would be confronted by Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies outside the 24 Hour Fitness gym in Ladera Heights.
A manager called complaining a customer was “creating a disturbance,” according to a sheriff’s department statement at the time. Rogers allegedly was bothering other customers. The deputies escorted him out, but were called back to the scene about two hours later.
Deputies were summoned again around 10:45 p.m., when the manager saw Rogers outside the building. The manager was afraid to leave, according to the sheriff’s department.
Here’s how the sheriff’s department described the events that followed:“The suspect was uncooperative and became aggressive towards the deputies. One of the deputy’s tased the suspect with no affect. The suspect began to walk away. The deputies followed the suspect, a short distance, giving him orders that he did not comply with.”
Rogers was tased a second time “with no affect,” and began to swing “metal electric hair clippers” at a deputy’s head, according to the department.
Then, his mother’s nightmare came true.
“The suspect continued to swing the weapon over his head and aggressively moved towards one of the deputies. A deputy-involved shooting then took place.”
Now, Williams is suing. She claims her son “made no offensive moves toward” deputies. She also claims the sheriff’s department has “failed to adequately train” deputies to deal with people who suffer from mental illness.
“That failure to train and/or supervise amounted to a deliberate indifference to the rights of persons” deputies encounter every day, the lawsuit states. The failure “amounts to a de facto custom, practice or policy” of the department.
The sheriff’s department would not comment directly on the lawsuit. A statement noted the deputies called for a Mental Evaluation Team to assist them, but none was available.
“We currently have 10 MET teams Countywide and are waiting on additional funding, expected in September, to increase staffing,” the statement said. It called the expansion “part of a holistic plan to train deputies in crisis intervention and provide 24/7 triage and support for critical incidents involving individuals suffering from mental illness.”
The explanation for the killing of her son did little to console Janice Williams, who once worked at a group home that house mentally ill people. From that experience and dealing with her son, she knows a calm, reassuring voice that night would have worked better than police commands, Williams said.
"He was scared. I know he was just scared," she said. “Why, why did they take him from me?”