Kristiana Coignard.  

© In Loving Memory of  

Kristiana Coignard Facebook photo Kristiana 

Coignard. Just after sunset last Thursday, 

17-year-old Kristiana Coignard entered a police 

station in Longview, Texas, a small city two hours 

east of Dallas with a history of police violence not 

all that different from the rest of the United States 

– but no less mysterious.

Coignard picked up a red, wall-mounted phone in 

the police department lobby and asked to speak 

with an officer – for reasons that also remain 


The teenager may have been “wielding a knife”,  

according to the mayor. Police say “they were 

confronted by a white female who threatened 

them” – after which she brandished some sort of 

weapon, “made threatening movements toward 


officers and was shot”. Motives on either side are 

still relatively unknown.

What is clear, nearly a week later in Texas and six 

months after police killings and community 

relations starting coming under renewed scrutiny 

across the US, is that another teenager has died 

after being shot “multiple times” by local cops. 

Three officers are on paid leave, the Longview 

police told the Guardian. A preliminary autopsy 

report has ruled the death a homicide.

And in the case of Kristiana Coignard, as in what 

advocates and sheriffs agree constitute more than 

half of US police killings each year, the victim 

appears to have had mental health problems.

Call it “justifiable homicide”: FBI statistics 

counted 461 encounters between police and those 

they killed with the threat of violence in 2013. 

Some have dubbed it “suicide-by-cop”, as about 

one-third of such cases can be classified – in 

addition to undoubtedly many more undercounted 

deaths. The hacktivist collective Anonymous 

prefers “trained to kill”.

Whatever you call the overlapping patterns of 

police violence and brief encounters with young 

and possibly unstable citizens, mental health 

advocates insist the United States is “not keeping 


“We’ve deputised America’s police to be mental 

health workers,” Doris A Fuller, executive 


of the Treatment Advocacy Center, told the 

Guardian. “We’re asking cops to make a split-

second decision about whether someone is 

actually a threat to them.”

On a Facebook page for the Longview police, a 

user claiming to be Coignard’s uncle wrote that 

“for quite a few years my niece suffered from 

mental illness”.

The teenager was taking medication, seeing a 

therapist and living with her aunt, Heather 

Robertson, according to an interview with 

Robertson at ThinkProgress. She told the website 

that Coignard had struggled with depression and 

bipolar disorder since her mother’s death when 


was four years old. Robertson said her niece had 

been “only violent with herself”.

“I think it was a cry for help,” Robertson said of 

the incident in the police department lobby. “I 

think they could have done something. They are 

grown men. I think there is something they are 

not telling us.”

There is video of the killing, Coignard’s aunt said 


the police told her.

A Longview police spokesperson, Kristie Brian, 

told the Guardian there are currently no plans to 

make footage available to the public. She declined 

to confirm the type of weapon Coignard allegedly 

brandished but said the department expects to 


release more details about the shooting later this 

week. The Texas Ranger Division is investigating 

the incident.

Brian said Longview officers “are trained in all 

kinds of different situations”, including dealing 

with people with mental health problems, and that 

the county has a Crisis Intervention Team (CIT), 

which sees specially trained officers dispatched to 

urgent psychiatric situations. She said she did not 

know whether the three officers currently on 


leave had been CIT-trained.

Signboard is the third person – and the third 

young person – shot dead by Longview police in 

less than a year. No charges were filed by a grand 

jury against three officers who killed a 

15-year-old robbery suspect during a shootout last 

March. A 23-year-old cook with a history of 

making threats  

died in August after a routine traffic stop went 


Three-and-a-half hours south, in Houston, the 

2012 death of Brian Claunch had exemplified the 

potential for tragedy when police with limited 

training encounter a troubled individual in a 

pressurised situation. Though Houston has a 

widely praised CIT programme, two officers 

without that experience were called to a care 


one night when Claunch, a schizophrenic, 

wheelchair-bound double amputee, started 

behaving erratically.

Police said that he grew violent and cornered an 

officer while waving a shiny object in their 

direction. Matthew Marin shot the 45-year-old in 

the head. The object proved to be a ballpoint pen. 

In June 2013, a grand jury declined to bring 

charges against the officer.

That year a police officer in Dallas was dismissed 

from his job, and indicted by a grand jury in 


after he shot a mentally ill man who was holding 

a knife but standing still several yards away. The 

encounter lasted less than 30 seconds from the 

officers’ arrival to the gunfire.

A 2013 joint report by the Treatment Advocacy 

Center and the National Sheriffs’ Association 


that while no national data is officially collected 

on fatal police shootings of the mentally ill, 

“multiple informal studies and accounts support 

the conclusion that ‘at least half of the people shot 

and killed by police each year in this country have 

mental health problems’.”

A third of “justifiable homicides”, the study 

found, could be characterised as “suicide-

by-cop”, and many victims were not taking their 

medications nor under close supervision by 

mental health agencies.

Not unlike the larger call for more reliable 

nationwide numbers to address all police killings, 

advocates say a lack of firm data leads to a 

standard of police responses to encounters with 

the mentally ill that depends on officer training 

and varies widely from department to department.

“We’re not keeping track of that, so we don’t 

really have a handle on the situation,” said the  

Treatment Advocacy Center’s Fuller, adding that 

research indicated about half the US population  

lives in counties served by CIT policing.

Ron Honberg, national director of policy and 


affairs at the National Alliance on Mental Illness,  

said his organisation has called on the US justice 

department to keep better track of deaths involving  

police and the mentally ill. Outgoing attorney 

general Eric Holder, whose replacement was 



to pass confirmation hearings on Wednesday in 

Washington, recently called the lack of more  

comprehensive police incident data “troubling”.

Honberg said the standard police response to 

someone behaving aggressively is often to “come 

in and  

be very assertive, and that can be exactly the 

wrong way to deal with someone who may be 

having a  

serious psychiatric episode” and may have a fear 

of the authorities.

While better training and protocols are vital, he 

told the Guardian, at their core the violent 

encounters are “a manifestation of a broken 

mental health system”.

Anonymous, in a video posted on Saturday, cited 

Coignard’s death as the impetus for a new 


called Stop Lethal Force on Children.

“In 2014, we watched as police killed children 


it started a army [sic] of angry Americans,” the 

group said. “This teen girl’s death just put fuel on 

that fire.”
  • In the US, the National Suicide Prevention
  •  Hotline is 1-800-273-8255 and the Trevor 
  • Project’s Lifeline is 1-866-488-7386.