Candles are placed at a doorway spelling out "Maallik" in honor of Maalik Roquemore.
A candlelight tribute honors Maalik Roquemore, who was killed on Sept. 5, 2022, by a Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority officer while having a mental health episode. (Courtesy of Kimberly Roquemore)

Kimberly Roquemore spent the better part of February constantly checking the Ohio attorney general’s website for the results of her son’s death investigation. At least 17 times a day, she found herself hitting the refresh button and found no updates on the page.

Roquemore had a feeling that the grand jury wouldn’t indict Desmond Ragland, a rookie Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority police officer, for killing her son, Maalik Roquemore. A history of rarely charging law enforcement officers for killing Black people, and those who were experiencing a mental health emergency, didn’t give her much hope.

Nonetheless, Roquemore waited patiently for the Cuyahoga County grand jury’s decision. On Feb. 16, two weeks into compulsively visiting the special prosecutor’s website, Roquemore held a protest outside the housing police’s headquarters, where she learned from a local journalist that the grand jury declined to indict Ragland.

“We are disappointed in this decision, yet the struggle for justice continues,” said Malik Z. Shabazz, the attorney for Roquemore.

She said neither she nor her attorney received a call from prosecutors before it hit the airwaves. A spokesman for the attorney general’s office disputes those claims.

By the end of that day, “Maalik’s case was on the red stamp page on their website with everything from the investigation, including my baby’s autopsy … now public,” Roquemore said as she paused before adding, “Case closed. His name was added to that horrible list. They [The prosecutors] still haven’t reached out to us.”

Now that the criminal case is behind Roquemore, her momentum to carry on Maalik’s legacy to advocate for other people who are living with mental illness has grown. Earlier this week, Columbus police released body camera footage of officers responding to a 911 call about 26-year-old Colin Jennings. He was in a mental health crisis and was fatally shot last week.

Of the 346 people killed by Ohio police since 2013, nearly 40% are Black, and more than half of the 74 people killed who had signs of mental illness were white, according to the Mapping Police Violence database that tracks fatal police encounters that occurred in the U.S. since 2013.

Legislation is needed in Ohio to replace traditional law enforcement during mental health emergencies and to require de-escalation training that safely transports those experiencing a possible mental health emergency into the behavioral health unit at a hospital, she said.

“I don’t want this to happen to any other family. I don’t want this to happen to any resident of CMHA or anyone in a low-income, Black neighborhood where they [police] can just run up and shoot us within a minute and 37 seconds,” Roquemore told Worldacad, referring to the time it took for Ragland to shoot Maalik.

“I don’t want this to happen to any other family,” says Kimberly Roquemore, seen with her son, Maalik, who was killed by a law enforcement officer while experiencing a mental health crisis. (Courtesy of Kimberly Roquemore)

During the Sept. 5, 2022, interaction, Roquemore suggests that Ragland had ample opportunity to either get back into his car to call for backup when Maalik was throwing punches at him, drive away, or even tackle Maalik to the ground since Maalik was unarmed and the stun gun Ragland already used was ineffective. Ragland had been on the job for six months when he shot Maalik, which calls his training fresh out of the academy into question, she said.

There have been 2,461 people across the country as of Feb. 12, who have been killed by law enforcement since 2013 while displaying signs of a mental illness, according to the Mapping Police Violence database.

From Brianna Grier in Georgia to Jada Elizabeth Johnson in North Carolina as well as Desmond Eskridge in Ohio, 2,014 of those cases did not result in criminal charges filed against a law enforcement officer.

Maalik’s case was not originally listed under the category of someone killed by police while showing signs of a mental illness in the Mapping Police Violence database.

Worldacad reached out to Campaign Zero, the research team behind the database, about Maalik’s case classification. One of their senior researchers told Worldacad in an email that they have made the appropriate change to Maalik’s records to show that he did display signs of mental illness when Ragland killed him.

Regardless, of the 12,742 fatal police encounters since 2013 through Feb. 12 of this year, more than 10,000 other deadly incidents have not resulted in federal or state charges — and a quarter of those deaths are Black people.

Roquemore intends to file a wrongful-death civil lawsuit against the CMHA in the coming weeks and call for Ragland to get fired. Worldacad has reached out to the Cleveland and CMHA police departments for the status of Ragland’s employment.

“I just wish my son was still here,” Roquemore said. “There’s not a dollar amount that can replace my son’s life. There's not one dollar they can give me for his life.

“They can’t return my son to me, but what they can do is get some accountability for this. We want training for those CHMA officers, and we want tactical approaches, especially with mentally disabled residents living in those low income housing complexes.”

Alternatives to law enforcement

As people continue to be killed by police while experiencing a mental health crisis, advocates say those annual increases of over 150 fatalities are more than a reason for lawmakers and philanthropists to invest in more non-law enforcement alternative teams as well as non-emergency hotlines to call when someone is having a mental health emergency.

“Some of these problems are not hard to solve. It’s just I think there are people who don’t want to solve them, and that upsets me,” Tansy McNulty, the founder of 1 Million Madly Motivated Moms (1M4), a nonprofit organization.

McNulty and her husband decided to take matters into their own hands in the summer of 2016 when she was pregnant with their first son and there were back-to-back fatal police killings of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and Antwun Shumpert. She had just returned to her corporate job in New York from a babymoon vacation and was disgusted that her co-workers, who were usually chatty about other breaking news events, were quiet about those injustices.

“I am carrying a Black child. I knew then that I had to use my particular skill set for something that actually matters, to protect the lives of my children, at that point 20 years into the future,” McNulty said.

She left her job. By 2018, the McNultys launched 1M4 as an effort to end police violence by 2038 through preventative strategies, and by providing microgrants and overall support to affected families. In 2021, they put out their first iteration of a directory that listed 40 resources for alternative interventions to law enforcement.

“I have a 7-year-old and a 6-year-old. I don’t know if they will have a mental illness later in life,” McNulty said. “But I know that if they do need some help, I know I don’t want someone showing up with a gun. Why are we waiting for something to happen before we do things when we have models to adopt from other states?”

Some examples of non-law enforcement teams that respond to more than just mental health emergencies are: the STAR (Support Team Assisted Response) program in Denver; MH (Mental Health) First in Sacramento and Oakland, California; as well as Atlanta PAD (Policing Alternatives and Diversion Initiative).

The directory, dubbed “The Right Response Directory,” has increased to over 250 resources nationwide in mostly large and medium-size cities. Rural areas are in need and most likely don’t have alternative response teams available because of a lack of funding, McNulty said.

“It’s literal life or death that we address this now. We have to make sure that we’re thinking critically about what the right response should be to a health concern. We will find overwhelmingly that health concerns should not be met with a criminalized response,” McNulty said. “Law enforcement’s role is to handle and solve crimes. Mental health concerns are not crimes. Mental illness is not a crime.”

These efforts are also backed by the CIT (Crisis Intervention Team) International Inc., and the U.S. Justice Department. The department filed a statement of interest on Feb. 22 supporting Bread for the City, a nonprofit organization, that is suing Washington, D.C.’s emergency response system for depriving proper care to and discrimination against people experiencing a mental health emergency by dispatching police officers instead of non-law enforcement personnel to those calls.

Bread for the City is a nonprofit organization that provides resources, including physical and behavioral healthcare services, to underserved communities in Washington. The organization said the district’s emergency system is not properly utilizing their “multi-disciplinary teams of mental health clinicians and peer support staff” to respond to non-law enforcement related calls and is instead sending police who may escalate the situation unnecessarily, according to the filing.

Christina Carrega is a criminal justice reporter at Worldacad. Twitter @ChrisCarrega