Who Are the Victims of ‘Suicide by Cop?’ This Woman Could be One of Many

“It’s likely that people are targeting this particular method because they know of the high degree of lethality of getting shot.”

By Alain Stephens & Joy DiazNovember 15, 2016 9:41 am

This is part two of a series on “suicide by cop.” What does it mean? Who are the victims? Why is this happening? We’ll answer these questions and more. 

When Micah Jester, a young Texas mom dealing with postpartum depression, went into crisis earlier this year her partner picked up the phone and dialed 911. A team of mental health professionals came to their home in Austin to help.

In the midst of another crisis a few weeks ago – Jester’s partner again called 911. But the second time, she was killed by the police. They said she had a gun.

Quickly the term “suicide by cop” started flying around her case.

The case is still under investigation. And the only person who could talk to us is Jester’s partner, Victor Cantu.

That night, Cantu says Jester was deeply conflicted. It was the 10th anniversary of her father’s death – he had been shot and killed by police in Florida.

“She was getting out of control,” Cantu says. “Just talking about death a lot. What happens after death? If I die, I don’t want to come back as the same person. Do you believe that there’s – you know? – heaven or hell or … I got to the point where I was like – ‘I’m done.’”

Cantu sounds calm as he’s describing this episode. He says Jester would often cut her face during a crisis. On that night she was holding their baby and wouldn’t let Cantu take her. He called 911 and asked for a mental health officer. He says the operator asked him if Jester was armed.

“And I said ‘No, there’s no weapons involved,’” he says. “When I said that, [Jester] actually raised her shirt, showed me the grip and I was like ‘Ok, let me change that – there is – she’s got a gun, there is a gun.’”

Days later, police officials released their findings. Jester had a BB gun that mimicked a semi-automatic pistol. Jester had also left a note before the incident.

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Cantu says he thinks the gun changed the dynamic. The police response to his call for help for Jester was different this time.

This time, when the cops showed up he believes their weapons were already drawn.

The shooting has opened up a lot of questions about “suicide by cop.”

Who Are the People Involved?

These cases are hard to track. In fact, the FBI posted a bulletin on this topic back in 2014 saying that “suicide by cop” has received little attention and that many officers may have “encountered behavior of this nature without recognizing it.”

But this isn’t necessarily a new problem.

Caleb Christian is in his 20s and lives in Dallas. His grandfather, Stephen Christian, was a Dallas police officer who joined the force in the early 1970s. And for Caleb, he was a father figure.

“You know? I grew up liking Batman [and] superheroes,” he says. “And to me, it was like having a superhero in the family. Having a cop in the family”

Courtesy Stephen Christian

Stephen Christian holds a photo of his grandfather who was a victim of "suicide by cop."

Stephen Christian was a highly decorated officer, described as a straight arrow and deeply religious – he was literally the poster-child for community policing. They had him pose for a Dallas police poster. But after nearly 25 years on patrol, he was reassigned to jail duties, and he fell into a deep depression.

On Nov. 4 – his birthday – something happened.

“One night he went to a police station, and this off-duty police officer claims to have heard him say something along the lines of ‘So I guess you’ll be first,’” Caleb Christian says. “This off-duty police officer saw my grandfather in civilian attire with a gun on him and decided to open fire on him. I had always wondered in the back of my mind, since he was a cop for so long, did he know exactly what to do to get an officer to shoot him down?”

Stephen Christian was shot 27 times. After this, the Dallas Police Department implemented some policy changes to address people with mental health challenges, like Christian.

There are some parallels between the two shootings. Both Jester and Christian had signs of mental illness and depression. Both were shot on days of significance to them – Jester on the anniversary of her father’s death, and Christian on his birthday. And they both had a preoccupation with the afterlife – particularly a fear of dying by one’s own hand.

The American Association of Suicidology reports about half of people who seek out suicide by cop are unemployed – as was the case with Micah Jester. Likewise, most are armed – 80 percent for men, 100 percent for women. And this is a big one: the majority of them had a confirmed or probable mental health history.

That’s something mental health challenge advocates can attest to. Greg Hansch is with the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

“It’s somewhere around 10 percent of initial suicide attempts are successful,” Hansch says. “The second and third suicide attempts tend to be a lot more lethal. So, it’s likely that people are targeting this particular method because they know of the high degree of lethality of getting shot.”