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Lethal force questioned, as more details released on BPD mental health call

Police officers on the scene regroup after the shooting.
Screenshot from Body Camera Video
Buffalo Police
Police officers on the scene regroup after the shooting.

The head of the Buffalo Police Behavioral Health Unit is sharing more details about Monday's shooting on Hertel Avenue. Capt. Amber Beyer said Dominique Thomas, 30, called 911 for help with people trying to kill him.

When officers arrived on the scene, she said Thomas was wielding a knife and in an apparent mental health crisis.

Beyer said the scene would not have been safe for a behavioral health specialist to interact with Thomas, and one would not have arrived in the short time before police felt the need to shoot.

"Our police officers wouldn't allow our clinicians to exit the vehicle if presented with the situation with a man yielding a large survival knife. At this time, it's all we can utilize is our verbal de-escalation techniques," she said. "If he was contained in the house, then we could ask officers to go out there, confer with their supervisor and develop maybe a more strategic plan."

Community activist and former Buffalo Police Advisory Board member De’Jon Hall agreed.

"In this particular instance, this gentlemen had a knife," Hall said. "This would be one of the instances where, even those who advocate for mental health professionals instead of police, would tell you that this is probably an instance where police presence would be warranted and most likely required by any sort of legislation that hopes to move in that direction."

Still, Hall questioned why police chose to shoot Thomas.

"Once they were outside, their reaction was not to tase, not to use the bola wraps that the city — and I don't know if that trial run is over, but the city was using — to try to disarm this gentlemen in order to keep him safe and them safe. Instead, they used lethal force," Hall said.

Ten gunshots could be heard on police body camera video released to the public. Beyer would not comment on the number of shots fired to stop Thomas from advancing on police with his knife, but she said officers acted appropriately.

"Officers attempted to talk to him and figure out what the problem was," she said. "Obviously, they gave verbal commands to drop the knife, but they were also trying to get this individual help. 'We can help you. Let's talk about this.' You know, they were pleading with him that it didn't have to end tragically, and at that point, this individual, something was registering with him, something wasn't clicking."

Hall said the incident mirrors the shooting of Willie Henley in Buffalo in September 2020 and arrest of Daniel Prude in Rochester in March 2021 which resulted in Prude’s death. Daniel’s Law, a law which would create mental health units trained in de-escalation tactics for mental health and substance abuse emergencies, currently sits in the Assembly.

Beyer said Buffalo Police have posted for one additional behavioral health specialist to work evening and overnight hours, when Monday's incident occurred.

Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Thomas moved to Western New York at the age of 14. A graduate of Buffalo State College, he majored in Communications Studies and was part of the sports staff for WBNY. When not following his beloved University of Kentucky Wildcats and Boston Red Sox, Thomas enjoys coaching youth basketball, reading Tolkien novels and seeing live music.