Funeral service for William Henderson, was he murdered?

Funeral services will be held Saturday at 1 P.M. at Macedonia Baptist Church for a mentally disabled man, killed by Monroe Police, in a shooting incident that has made many Southside residents uneasy about what some are calling an unnecessary action.

William Mark Henderson, 58, of Monroe, was killed Sunday by police fire after officers opened fire upon him in an 8th Street alley.

Henderson, known as “Tender” in his glory days as a football and track star at Richwood High School in the 60’s was pronounced dead after the shooting incident.

Police say the department received a report that Henderson was walking the streets waving a knife and a chain. When stopped, according to police, he would not comply with their commands, lunged at the officers and was shot by a barrage of police fire.

Five officers have been placed on administrative leave, with pay, while the investigation continues.

The incident occurred in broad daylight with dozens of onlookers who watched the incident unfold.

Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo issued a televised condolence to the Henderson family and referred to the shooting as an unfortunate “accident.”

Monroe City Councilman Arthur Gilmore, Tuesday night urged residents to withhold judgment until the investigation is complete.

That hasn’t calmed the anger of many residents who say something needs to be done. They have banned together to call a community meeting on the shooting Thursday, August 26, 2004 at 6 p.m. at the Henrietta Johnson Recreation Center to discuss the issue.

Police ChiefÆs version

Police Chief Ron Schleuter said Henderson had a “knife swinging it around in a threatening manner.” He said officers gave Henderson verbal commands to put down the ôknivesö and he would not comply.

Schleuter’s complete statement to the Free Press was:

“They gave him verbal commands to put the knives down at which time he wouldn’t comply. They utilized a pepper ball gun which is a gun that shoots out little round balls full of OC powder. They shot him several times with that. He failed to comply and that escalated a little bigger to a bean bag which was shot out of a 12 guage shot gun. He was shot several times with that. He failed to comply with the commands of the officers and at this time he progressed toward the officers in a threatening manner and the officers ended up firing their weapons several times hitting the individual. After the encounter they administered first aid and he was transported by EMR to the hospital. At the hospital he was pronounced dead.ö

Schleuter said the rules of engagement for officers is the same as state law. “If in imminent danger of great bodily harm to yourself or someone else they are authorized to use deadly force.”

“I felt due to the nature of the investigation it was best for the police department and the City of Monroe to have an unbiased department to come in with no affiliation with the City of Monroe or the department.

Schleuter said he stood behind the reports of his officers. He said he was the training officer for the officers involved before he became chief, along with other agencies.

Schleuter said the Monroe Police Department is not conducting an investigation. He invited the Free Press to join the investigation by giving the names of people who know information to the State Police.

Eyewitness accounts

Eyewitness accounts of the shooting differ from the police account. While varying in detail they all reflect to varying degrees, what one eye witness told the Free Press. The witness asked for her name to be withheld for fear of police reprisal.

“I was there. I saw it with my own eyes. He (Henderson) was standing there in the alley. He didn’t have no shirt on. I heard the officers yell at him and tell him to drop something, but I didn’t see anything in his hand.

“They yelled again then they shot something and he staggered. He started backing up.

The next thing I know they started firing. It sounded like firecrackers going off, pow, pow, pow. I saw dust flying up where it look like bullets were hitting the ground.

“I said oh my God they are shooting him. But he didn’t have no gun. He didn’t have no gun. It was more than one officer firing. It was like target practice.ö

What about the reports?

There are conflicting incidents about how police engaged Henderson. Sunday the police told the media that the station received a call about a man who was walking in the neighborhood with a chain and a knife.

By Monday the police were reporting that an officer was flagged down and told of the suspicious-looking man.

If it was a call-in then the police responded extremely fast because by 5:45 p.m. Henderson was dead.

The Chains and a butcher’s knife?

Chief Schleuter said Henderson lunged at officers with a chain and a knife, which prompted the officers to shoot him in self defense. He said all other details of the case were still under investigation.

When asked why he could say definitely that the officers were being attacked if the case is under investigation, Schleuter said he believed his officers.

Witnesses told the media that Henderson was seen walking in the area carrying what appeared to be an umbrella or a stick, without a shirt. He had several large chains around his neck.

KC. Henderson when his father left their 9th street home he was walking. There wasn’t a butcherÆs knife on him like the police reported. He said there were no knives in their house. They used plastic forks and utensils.

ôThey said on TV it was a kitchen knife but itÆs no kitchen knives in that houseö said Monica Bruce, his former wife.

Henderson wore several chains around his neck, one of which was a crucifix which dangled from a large necklace that came to his waist. He also wore other chains around his neck that contained the medals won by son KC as a member of the Wossman Track and Football team.
Catherine Kincaid, Henderson’s mother in law, said he did have a small pocket knife that he sometimes carried in his pocket, but it couldn’t be confused with butcher’s knife.

Gertrude Robinson, Henderson’s sister, said Henderson wore the chain around his neck. “He kept a lot of chains around his neck.” She said she has never seen him use the chains around his neck.

Robinson said one of the necklace chains Henderson wore was about the size of dog leash chain. She said although he carries a pocket knife he has not been known to use it against anyone.

Good Man With a Mental Disability

Bruce described her ex-husband a good man who was mentally disabled.

It was his disability that eventually dissolved their 13-year marriage, but they remained friends. She said he embraced the last three of her eight children as his own and treated none of the differently.

When he took his medication regularly, he was a kind and gentle person. On occasion he missed his medication or did not get his prescription and acted strangely and often got out of control, forcing the family to call the police, which is the way many get help for the mentally disabled in Southside Monroe.

Poor families that attempt to get help for the mentally disabled are often turned down or refused help. Many have learned to call the police to get treatment needed.

Calling the police produced a record of incidents that made the police department quite familiar with Henderson.

Police records show that police have been dealing with Henderson since 1989. Each time he got out of hand and needed help, the only way to get him checked into the mental unit at the hospital was to call the police.

Several police department reports show that officers took Henderson to the Mental Health Center and in some instances the LSU Science Center for treatment.

The family has sought help for Henderson for years. He is 100 percent disabled but without medication gets erratic.

Just this year he was arrested in July on an aggravated assault charge when he reportedly threatened someone with a car jack. In August Bruce filed an abuse prevention complaint saying she was afraid of Henderson.

Calling the police is the only way to get help for him.

“As long as he takes his medicine, he is fineö Bruce told the Free Press. Those were the same words she said on her abuse prevention report in August.

Bruce described Henderson as a loving person who was compassionate. ôHe was alright until he didn’t take his medicine.ö

She said he often came to her home and brought money for his children and assisted her with transportation to and from work. She said he was a constant presence around his kids, so much so that two of his older sons elected to live with him despite his disability.

“He goes to all of my kids football games. KC loved his daddy. When he won a ring for being a state champion he had it engraved. He put his daddyÆs name in the ring. That’s what he thought of his daddy.ö Bruce said.

Though estranged from Henderson for six years Bruce said he never broke relations with her or his children and often served as a baby sitter for her other children.

“ThatÆs just the way he was.”

Dozens of eccentrics in the Black community

Anyone familiar with poor neighborhoods knows that there are dozens of eccentric and disabled people walking the streets of the Black community, said Otis Chisley, president of the NAACP.

Chisley told the Free Press that he was afraid for the lives of these mentally disabled people who are known in the neighborhood but may be unknown to people outside of the community.

Chisely said officers need sensitivity training before being assigned to duty in unfamiliar neighborhoods.

In South Monroe, there is one eccentric mentally disabled man who walks the street wearing a full suit and tie each day. He talks to himself constantly. However, when he is spoken to in the wrong way, he relives his boxing career and starts swinging his arms as if he was in a fight.

In the Renwick Neighborhood, there is a man who walks down the middle of the street daily eating a plate of food, sleeps in the yards of neighbors, and often walks without a shirt on. Neighbors know him as harmless.

Also in the Renwick Neighborhood, there is a mentally disabled man who goes into the yards of residents and moves trash barrels to the curb for garbage collectors. He often does so at strange hours of the day and night, without permission.

Another man in the Berg Jones Lane area carries a hammer in his back pocket every day as he walks aimlessly through the neighborhood. He uses the hammer to nail the door of his house shut when he leaves and to open it when he comes home.

Any of these disabled people may be a threatening presence to officers unfamiliar with the neighborhoods.
Chisley said SundayÆs shooting indicates all of these people may be in danger from police who may be in fear of their lives when dealing with them.