Man shot by police had history of mental illness

Bradford Etheredge
Bradford Etheredge

The man fatally shot last week after attacking two Baton Rouge police officers with a knife had a long history of mental illness, including paranoid schizophrenia, and had been hospitalized for his condition on numerous occasions, according to court records.

Police shot Bradford L. Etheredge after he stabbed two officers trying to intervene in a conflict between Etheredge and his landlord, authorities have said. Etheredge, 37, was shot three times in the torso during the struggle at his 129 N. 24th St. residence and bled to death, East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner Dr. Beau Clark said.

Cpl. Donald Johnson and officer Brian Strong received wounds to the head and neck in the April 8 attack but have since been released from the hospital. They remain on paid administrative leave as the Baton Rouge Police Department investigates the officer-involved shooting.

At the time of his death, Etheredge had stopped taking his medication, his mother, Wanda Fellman, said.

Fellman said she had grown increasingly concerned about her son and had contemplated having him committed just a week before his death. While she expressed sympathy for the injured officers, Fellman questioned their decision to use deadly force. She claimed the authorities should have known about her son’s mental illness from prior incidents.

“I think they handled him wrong,” Fellman said in a telephone interview, adding she plans to hire an attorney after she returns from burying her son in South Carolina.

She questioned why police didn’t use nonlethal force, such as a stun gun, pepper spray
or Mace, on her mentally ill son.

Lt. Don Kelly, a spokesman for the Police Department, said dispatch records show the officers who responded “had no advance information about (Etheredge’s) mental history when they were sent to the call, which is not at all unusual.”

Kelly added, “Our officers encounter emotionally disturbed persons just about every single day in a wide variety of settings and quite often have no way of knowing their status or history.”

Kelly declined to discuss the specifics of the officers’ response, citing the department’s ongoing investigation. But he noted that a stun gun is considered a “less lethal” use of force and “would not be indicated” in a situation in which deadly force is required. “Our department policy authorizes the use of deadly force in defense of an officer’s life or the life of another person when there is an immediate threat of death or great bodily harm,” Kelly said. “The ultimate goal of both our administrative and legal investigations will be to discover all the facts and evidence to help determine whether the officers’ actions were consistent with our policies and state laws.”

Etheredge had a number of run-ins with law enforcement resulting in several charges over the years, but Fellman said her son had not received much help from the judicial system when it came to his mental health. Many of his arrests were drug related, including one in 2004 in which Etheredge chased and assaulted his then-stepfather, demanding money.

The stepfather told police Etheredge had been “acting crazy” and asked police to arrest him, according to court records. Officers later found drugs on Etheredge, the records show.

Doctors evaluating Etheredge’s mental health during his court proceedings determined he was “delusional” and “psychotic,” according to court records, even as they found him fit to stand trial. Etheredge pleaded guilty to unauthorized entry of an inhabited dwelling in a concurrent case in December 2004 and was placed on probation.

His probation was revoked for technical violations, and Etheredge was imprisoned for more than a year, said Pam Laborde, spokeswoman for the state Department of Public Safety and Corrections.

“Seems like no matter how hard I try, I just can’t stay out of trouble,” Etheredge told Dr. Robert V. Blanche during one psychological evaluation. “The only time people like me is when I am drinking ’cause I have no restraint. When I am not, I am just quiet, don’t say anything or I play the keyboard.”

Fellman said her son often refused to take his medications until confronted with being committed to a psychiatric institution.

Etheredge had been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder and personality disorder, court records show. He was hospitalized several times and once spent about a year in a psychiatric facility in South Carolina, Fellman said.

East Baton Rouge Coroner’s Office records show Etheredge had been ordered into protective custody at least four times since 2003. An order signed in June 2009 said Etheredge had been missing psychiatric appointments and running through his home “screaming at people who aren’t there … Patient believes the asteroids are coming and no one will be left on earth this time next year.”

Etheredge lived a paranoid and reclusive life, boarding up windows in his home and refusing to open his door at times for his mother and other visitors, Fellman said.

He received a disability check and called his mother when he needed something, she said.

“He kept to himself,” Fellman said, recalling her son as a gifted artist who had at one time aspired to be a nuclear physicist.

Etheredge’s landlord sought to evict him March 21 after he had failed to pay his rent for several months, City Constable Reginald Brown said. Fellman arrived and paid the landlord more than $2,500 in rent to stop the eviction, Brown said.

“The mother told us when we were about to go in that she needed to go in first because, if not, he might hurt one of us going in,” Brown said.

Information about that encounter, however, would not have been available to police officers sent to Etheredge’s home last week, Brown said.

Police have released few details about their response to the home.

Cpl. L’Jean McKneely has said the landlord had become fearful of Etheredge and had called police “to be the mediator.” Repeated calls to the landlord were not returned Tuesday.

While Fellman is weighing legal action, she said she has forgiven the officers who fatally shot her son.

“I don’t hold a grudge for those officers nor the Police Department,” she said. “I just think that something needs to be done so this doesn’t happen to anybody else’s sick child again.”