Families of police violence victims discuss mental health, accountability

Connor Todd, Contributing Writer

The Mobile County branch of the NAACP held a virtual event entitled “Our Talk: the Aftermath of Tragedy,” which featured the families of victims of police violence in Alabama as guest speakers.

Robert Clopton, president of the Mobile chapter of the NAACP, stressed the importance of such an event that serves as a window to “take a look at the victim, and the hurt, the hardship and the pain that has been rendered on these families.”

Clopton, who moderated the event, invited participants to say in unison the names of the victims that were to be discussed, emphasizing that the event was meant to humanize the stories of victims of police violence and their families.

“Say their names” has become a staple during protests and demonstrations against police brutality, and Thursday’s event was no different.


The issue of mental health among people of color was a major theme of the event. Bernard Simelton, President of the Alabama State Conference of the NAACP, pointed out the need to have those conversations.

“Mental illness is one area that we need to concentrate on more in our society, and particularly in the African American community,” Simelton said.

According to the Treatment Advocacy Center, a national non-profit organization that researches and proposes treatment reforms, those who suffer from a mental illness are 16 times more likely to die in a police encounter than those who don’t.

Of the five families who spoke at the NAACP event, three mentioned that their deceased loved one suffered from some kind of mental illness.

Yvonne Mitchell, the sister of Ray Anson Mitchell, who died in a fatal police shooting in 2013, spoke about her brother’s history of mental illness.

Yvonne Mitchell narrated how toward his mid 30s, Ray Anson Mitchell, who was a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic, “began to undergo a crisis.”

Ray Anson Mitchell took prescription drugs to manage his illness, had no history of violent behavior, and was capable of working and supporting himself to live on his own.

“In regards to how mentally ill patients are handled, they should be handled as human beings, not as outcasts,” Yvonne Mitchell said.

The family of Wallace Wilder, a man who was killed in his home during a fatal police shooting in August 2019 at the age of 62, spoke about Wilder’s struggle with mental illness.

“Wallace was more than his mental illness,” said Wilder’s niece, Renota Harris.

Harris said that Wilder was diagnosed with bipolar schizophrenia.

Wilder spent time in Taylor Hardin Secure Medical Facility and the Indian Rivers Mental Health Center after he was found not guilty by reason of insanity in 1988 after beating a man to death with a hammer.

“His life mattered,” said Harris. “We feel that his life just didn’t matter to those that took his life. They just saw it as a problem to get rid of.”

Harris also said that she believes that the Pickens County Sheriff Department, which responded to the 911 call that resulted in Wilder’s death, was aware of Wilder’s history of mental illness.

“You cannot approach a mentally ill person in the same fashion that you would someone else,” Harris said. “We have got to do better for our mentally ill.”

Brandie Robinson, the sister of Crystal Ragland, a woman from Huntsville, Alabama, who was killed by police after the manager of her apartment complex claimed that Ragland was waving a gun on her balcony, said that Ragland was shot within 60 seconds of police arriving at Ragland’s apartment to respond to the call.

Ragland was a United States Army veteran, who served overseas and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Robinson said she learned about Ragland’s death after reading a news headline that she saw online, which said that a woman with mental illness had been killed in a police encounter.

Robinson said that she does not believe that Ragland had a gun.

Huntsville police have said that they confiscated a gun from Ragland’s home, but have yet to identify what type of gun it is.

“We have yet to receive a clear understanding of what happened that day,” Robinson said.

Transparency in policing, and the accessibility of police body-cam footage was another critical theme of “Our Talk.”


For Radiah Fletcher, the sister of Dana Fletcher, an unarmed Black man who was killed by Madison, Alabama police in front of his wife and 8-year-old daughter, the truth of what happened to Dana Fletcher may never be known.

The Madison City police department said officers responded to a 911 call that was made about a “suspicious person” at the Planet Fitness gym where the incident took place.

Radiah Fletcher said that Dana Fletcher, his wife Charelle Fletcher and their daughter were confronted by police officers.

Within nine minutes of the confrontation, Radiah Fletcher said police had shot and killed Dana Fletcher.

Many details about the incident are still unknown. Bodycam footage from the five officers that responded to the incident has not been released. Similarly, surveillance footage from the nearby Planet Fitness has also been concealed.

The City of Madison said that the footage will not be released because of an anticipated lawsuit by the Fletcher family.

Radiah Fletcher said that she believes that Madison police and the Madison County District Attorney’s Office have tried to criminalize Dana Fletcher after-the-fact.

Madison police officers said that Dana Fletcher threatened them with a gun during the confrontation.

“They said that (Dana Fletcher) had a gun and pointed it at an officer,” said Radiah Fletcher. “We dispute that, and will continue to dispute that until it is proven.”

Alabama currently has no state laws governing how or when police body-cam footage is to be released.

April Pipkins, the mother of EJ Bradford Jr., found out that Bradford had been killed by a Hoover, Alabama police officer through a social media post.

Bradford was at the Riverchase Galleria mall in Hoover, Alabama on the night of Nov. 22, 2018
when a man in the mall began shooting into crowds of people.

Bradford, who was carrying a licensed firearm, took out his handgun and ran toward the shooter.

A Hoover police officer, who has yet to be identified, shot and killed Bradford.

The officer who killed Bradford had his body-cam turned off during the time of the incident, a violation of department policy.

It is unclear whether or not the officer gave verbal commands before firing at Bradford.

Pipkins said that she believes the officer failed to verify whether or not Bradford was a threat before opening fire on the 21-year-old.

“Police officers need to be held accountable for what they do,” Pipkins said. “Until then, we will continue to have this problem.”