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Escondido OIS raises questions about mental health response teams

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Posted at 4:12 PM, Apr 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-30 19:12:11-04

ESCONDIDO, Calif. (KGTV) — Escondido Police Department recently released a nine-minute, pre-produced video that included body-cam footage showing a homeless man being shot six times and killed.

The incident has prompted local civil rights groups and the man's family to question why deadly force was used.

Police say in the past year Steven Olson had been arrested four times for threatening people with deadly weapons. They say he also spent time in prison for assault and had a history of mental health issues.

RELATED: Escondido Police release body-cam showing fatal shooting of man with metal pole

Escondido Police Chief Ed Varso said in a taped statement that the department works to resolve all potentially violent encounters peacefully.

Escondido, like some other local police departments, has what's called a Psychiatric Emergency Response Team or PERT. And San Diego County recently launched a Mobile Crisis Response Team to send out behavioral health professionals instead of law enforcement in certain situations. But that new team is only in a pilot phase and operating in North County coastal cities, not Escondido.

According to the county, MCRT, "respond to psychiatric emergencies only when they’re deemed not to involve threats of violence."

ABC 10News did reach out to Escondido Police to ask why PERT wasn't used in the situation with Olsen, but a spokesperson said they couldn't comment at this time.

The San Diego County District Attorney's Office, the U.S. Attorney's Office, and the FBI will review the shooting and the incident will also undergo an EPD internal review.