Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins, a member of R&B group TLC, has spoken out on social media after her cousin was shot dead by police.
Eddie Russell Jr was killed in Peoria, Illinois last week by officers who said they believed he was a suspect in a bank robbery. According to a statement from the Peoria Police Department, Russell had “[advanced] towards officers with a handgun” after they surrounded his home, prompting six officers to shoot him approximately 18 times.
However, Watkins said that Russell, 25, had well-known mental health problems, and accused the police of ‘using’ his mother to lure him out of his house so that they could shoot him.
“My cousin was shot 18 times including the face and back of his head! He harmed no one ever! He had mental health issues and the cops knew that!” Watkins wrote on Instagram, adding that any of her cousin’s previous misdemeanours had been “minor and nonviolent”.
“Eddie Russell Jr – a human being – a son – brother – friend – nephew – cousin – human!” she said.
Watkins said that the police hadn’t even called Russell’s mother to “explain what happened in detail to her child”.
“He needs justice! His mother and father and family need justice!” she wrote. “This wasn’t a hostage situation! He didn't threaten anyone's life! This was a mentally ill young man who needed help and should have received just that!
“His mother has tried for many years to get her son mental health counselling he needed! The system failed him and her!”
The police said that they received reports of a bank robbery shortly before 1pm on Wednesday 20 September, and that a bank surveillance tape identified the suspect as Russell. When they travelled to Russell’s home, he refused to come out for over two hours – until he “emerged from his home and aggressively advanced towards SRT [Special Response Team] officers with a handgun.
“Russell was shot,” reads the statement from police. “Emergency personnel were on scene and provided medical treatment. Russell was pronounced deceased at the scene.”
A coroner found that Russell had been struck 17-20 times. No police officers or civilians were hurt in the incident.
Watkins said that the police gave Russell’s mother a megaphone to call out to him from outside the house to persuade him to come out. They promised her they would “give him the help he needs” if she helped them, she said.
“He came out because he heard his mother and they used beyond excessive force to gun him down also with heavy artillery used in warfare,” Watkins wrote on Instagram, where she also shared a photo of an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle of the kind allegedly used by Peoria police.
Watkins contested the police department’s version of events, particularly their claim that Russell had been armed with a handgun at the bank. Alongside a photo of the bank’s CCTV footage, she wrote: “They keep saying he had a gun… I don’t see a gun in his hand at the bank they say he tried to rob! That’s not a gun!”
Police blocked off the area around Russell’s house for four blocks, Watkins said. She speculated this could have been in part to prevent people filming the incident, noting that police officers were not wearing body cams at the scene. As a result, there is no footage of Russell’s death.
However, the police said at a press conference that they were reviewing footage from vehicle cameras to see if any of them captured the incident. Peoria’s local newspaper, the Peoria Journal Star, reports that a formal investigation has been opened into Russell’s death, and members of the public have been asked to turn over any mobile phone footage to help investigators.
According to the New York Daily News, Russell had been released from a mental health facility shortly before he was killed. His father had apparently also asked to be allowed to enter the house to talk to his son, but the police refused him entry.
Images: Rex Features / Instagram