A black man who was fatally shot by three Oklahoma law enforcement officers had stopped taking medication in April to treat a bipolar disorder and was in declining mental health since the recent death of his father, members of his family said Saturday.
The mother, brother and two sisters of 29-year-old Joshua Barre told The Associated Press in interviews that authorities could have tried other means to restrain him before shooting because they knew about his mental condition since May 31, when members of the sheriff’s mental health unit received an order to pick him up for an evaluation.
Barre’s mother, Etta, said deputies also had ample time to call for backup Friday as they followed him while he walked more than 10 blocks from his rental house to the convenience store where he was eventually shot.
“They had plenty of time,” Etta Barre said. “They knew he had a history (of mental illness).”
As Barre entered the store, authorities say that two Tulsa County sheriff’s deputies and a police officer opened fire when they saw that he was carrying two large knives and became concerned about the safety of the people inside.
A one-minute video clip captured by the store’s surveillance camera and released by police late Friday shows a barefoot and shirtless Barre, wearing a winter beanie cap, push the door open, clutching both butcher knives in his right hand.
“It’s not like he was out to hurt someone. The knives were pointed down when he walks in the store,” said Joshua’s 20-year-old brother, Jordan, who gathered with grieving family members Saturday at Etta Barre’s house on the north side of town.
The two sheriff’s deputies and the police officer have been put on administrative leave. The two deputies are white and the officer is black.
Neither the police department nor the sheriff’s office have released the names of the officers involved, and spokesmen for both agencies declined to comment Saturday on the family’s accusation that more could have been done to subdue Joshua.
Within minutes of the shooting, dozens of black residents gathered around the convenience store. Police later estimated that the crowd swelled to about 300 people. After a tense period when at least two-dozen deputies and officers — clad in riot gear — stood in a line in the store parking lot, facing the crowd, people began to leave.
The shooting came about three weeks after jurors acquitted a white Tulsa police officer of manslaughter in the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man last year who had his hands raised in the air.
The verdict in favor of Betty Jo Shelby, who was allowed to return to the force, sparked peaceful protests and calls from community leaders and family members of 40-year-old Terence Crutcher to demand more accountability from the police.
Family members and neighbors hugged and cried and prayed at Etta Barre’s house Saturday morning.
Etta said Joshua was a model son, who was speaking in near-complete sentences when was 1 and playing first-chair violin in the sixth grade. She said he wanted to illustrate and write children’s books and maybe become an English teacher.
One of Barre’s six siblings, sister Tyesha Barre, talked about the hugs her brother was famous for, the ones where he wrapped people up in his strong arms and held tightly.
“He was my baby,” Tyesha Barre said.
Etta looked down at her cellphone, at the last text message she sent her son at 9:37 a.m.
It said “God bless you.”