Could mental health professional have responded to JSO standoff that turned deadly?

Jacksonville Sheriff T.K. Waters addresses questions, safety concerns for civilians after SWAT team kills suicidal man who fired at officers

An hourslong standoff Thursday on Jacksonville’s Northside ended with police shooting and killing a man.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – An hourslong standoff Thursday on Jacksonville’s Northside ended with police shooting and killing a man.

According to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, SWAT officers shot Thomas Gray, 60, outside his Lannie Road home after he fired at them.

It was JSOs third police-involved shooting in 2023.

Investigators said they responded after learning he was suicidal and were initially worried his girlfriend was inside the home at the time.

It’s raising questions about how police deal with mental health crises.

The Sheriff’s Office has mental health professionals who respond with officers, but they weren’t involved in this situation.

Jacksonville Sheriff T.K. Waters responded Friday, after the shooting.

“We are all for mental health. We are all for helping people with mental health issues,” Waters said. “But in a situation like that, it is very dangerous to bring a citizen out to face that kind of danger.”

Waters responded after the shooting told News4JAX that while JSO does send mental health professionals on certain psychiatric-related calls, this was too dangerous.

“In a situation like that, when it works out where the initial call is, ‘I’m going to kill myself, but if the police come, I’m going to shoot them,’ we have to respond, and then a gunshot goes off, we have to have the appropriate response for that, and it’s not bringing in a citizen. We can’t do it,” Waters said.

Patrol officers first responded Thursday afternoon after getting a call about a man who wanted to kill himself. Police said that arrived and tried to talk to him and that he fired a shot. That’s when the SWAT team came in.

Detectives said SWAT operators fired after talking to Gray for more than an hour. He stepped out onto the porch, put the gun down and his hands up, investigators said. Then, the said, he picked it up and started shooting. That’s when SWAT fired back, investigators said.

On Friday, police released a photo of the gun they said the man used.

On Friday, police released a photo of the gun they said the man used. (Provided by Jacksonville Sheriff's Office)

News4JAX asked Waters if there are any officers trained in cases like that?

“We have negotiators. All of our officers are CIT trained. So they talked for a long while before,” Waters said.

Recently, News4JAX highlighted JSO’s co-responder program, where licensed mental health professionals respond to mental health situations alongside patrol officers, and they’re often able to bring peaceful resolution without criminal charges.

And while this case is under investigation, the sheriff doesn’t believe that would’ve been the right choice given the danger.

A total of six SWAT officers were involved in the shooting, according to police. Because of that, they’re all on paid administrative leave, which is standard procedure for police-involved shootings in Jacksonville.

News4JAX has reached out to JSO for a copy of the agency’s policy on responding to mental health-related calls and when the co-responder program is appropriate.

If you or someone you know has a mental illness, is struggling emotionally or has concerns about their mental health, there are ways to get help. To reach the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, call or text 988, and you will be connected with a trained crisis counselor. Or you can use Lifeline Chat on the web. The Lifeline provides 24-hour, confidential support to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress.

About the Author:

Lifetime Jacksonville resident anchors the 8 and 9 a.m. weekday newscasts and is part of the News4Jax I-Team.