Olathe police knew man was mentally ill before shooting him

Brandon Lynch, 27, with his dog, River, was shot and killed in his home by…

Olathe police knew man was mentally ill before shooting him

Brandon Lynch, 27, with his dog, River, was shot and killed in his home by Olathe police on New Year’s Eve night. Lynch suffered paranoid schizophrenia, his family said.

Brandon Lynch, 27, with his dog, River, was shot and killed in his home by Olathe police on New Year’s Eve night. Lynch suffered paranoid schizophrenia, his family said.

Courtesy of Maria Varnas

More than 10 days after Brandon Lynch was killed by Olathe police in the entryway of his home, numerous questions still swirl around police actions during the New Year’s Eve shooting of the young man who long suffered mental illness.

In its public statement on the shooting, Olathe police on New Year’s Day said that officers were called to the 900 block of Oakview Street about 11:10 p.m. on a “physical disturbance.” There, they contacted a 27-year-old male, later identified as Lynch, inside the home, who “produced an edged weapon and advanced toward the officers.”

When a Taser failed to stop him, he was shot, police said. Despite attempts to save him, Lynch was pronounced dead at the scene. Officers were placed on paid leave pending an investigation.

Although police make no mention of a mental illness or provide a timeline of events, a review by The Star of police radio chatter from that night confirms that as officers arrived at the scene they were made aware that Lynch suffered schizophrenia, had a significant history with the police’s mental health Crisis Assessment Team and also was possibly armed.

They were also told ”he was making comments about wanting to kill everybody in the house.”

Radio chatter, reviewed from the app Broadcastify, suggests that about 5½ minutes passed from the time police arrived about 11:14 p.m. and the call “shots fired” went out on police radio.

In response to The Star, Olathe police noted that 37% of their personnel have received the extensive 40-hour Crisis Response and Intervention Training, which teaches how to respond to situations involving a mental health crisis. Some 80% had received the less intensive Mental Health First Aid Training, an eight-hour unit that is part of cadet training.

Olathe police, however, would not reveal what specific training the officers who responded that night had, citing the investigation by the Johnson County Multi-Jurisdictional Officer Involved Shooting Investigation Team.

Olathe police currently have three master’s level “co-responders” — social workers employed by the Johnson County Mental Health Center, but embedded with police — whose job it is to help in situations involving mental health crises. Often they work in teams with CIT officers.

Whether any of the three co-responders were on the scene, or were scheduled on New Year’s Eve night, a Saturday, also is unclear. Even if one was available, it remains uncertain whether the co-responder would have been dispatched to what amounted to a fraught and potentially violent scene.

Tim DeWeese, director of the Johnson County Mental Health Center, said co-repsonders are, in general, not sent into situations deemed unsafe or where weapons are involved, at least until the scene has been secured.

“In fact,” DeWeese said, “if they would have called our call center line, we probably would have called 911. I mean there’s just certain situations where I’m, you know, not going to send an unarmed social worker to de-escalate a situation where there’s someone that may be armed.”

On the Broadcastify chatter there is no mention of a mental health co-responder.

The first call came over the air around 11:10 p.m.: “Physical Disturbance 430 District: … East Oakview Street. Calling 330, 331.”

Then, about 35 seconds later, more information: “Between the sister and the brother. Male punched the sister who’s the RP (reporting party). She says she’s bleeding. She’s currently locked in her bedroom.”

Another 40 seconds pass: “Just information: There’s a lot of CAT (Crisis Assessment Team) history here. Also, with Brandon — Brandon Lynch — he’s diagnosed, schizophrenia. They had (garbled) disturbance here involving a knife in May. And then one before that, previously, maybe the year before. Think it was just with kitchen knives. … At the moment she’s in the bedroom and doesn’t know where he’s at.”

About 11:14 p.m.: “310. We’re both arriving. Will advise,” an officer says.

More details about Lynch are given: “Just for information, he was making comments about wanting to kill everybody in the house. And RP said he could have a knife on him, and may also have a stun gun on him. Not 100% sure.”

Just over four minutes pass from the time the officers arrive. At 11:18: “Olathe just put out an assist the officer … East Oakview.”

The call is repeated numerous times over the next 90 seconds: “Assist the officer … Olathe put out assist the officer. … Assist the officer … East Oakview, Olathe, physical disturbance. …”

About 11:19 p.m.: “331, shots fired.” It was 5 minutes and 35 seconds since the officers arrived.

Another voice: “Shots fired in Olathe at 23:19 . . .Calling 310, 331 and 343, assist the officer in Olathe … East Oakview Street.”

An officer speaks, somewhat breathless: “We’ve got shots fired. We need medical. Probably going to need two ambulances, one for the initial reporting party as well. Officer 10-4.”

“We have medical en route already,” a dispatcher says.

Shortly after, another voice: “It sounds like the subject is down.”

A neighbor, having heard what he thought were three shots, went to his front stoop and, from across the street, could see police giving CPR to someone he presumed was Lynch through the open doorway of the home. He was watching a football game that night when he heard the gun go off.

Many on Oakview Street were aware that Lynch suffered from mental illness. He lived with his mother and his mother’s partner, both of whom were out of the house celebrating New Year’s Eve. Lynch was at home with his younger sister.

When the neighbor heard multiple shots, he said part of him wondered at first whether Lynch might have hurt, or even killed, others in the home.

DeWeese, the Mental Health Center director, described the collaboration between the mental health community and law enforcement as being “at an all-time high.” The eight-hour Mental Health First Aid unit, geared toward identifying mental health problems, has become a standard part of police academy training. He said hundreds of officers also have voluntarily taken the longer, 40-hour Crisis Intervention Team training.

In the vast majority of cases, DeWeese said, when people are faced with a mental health crisis, he recommends they call 988, the suicide and crisis hotline, or the Johnson County Mental Health Crisis Line at 913-268-0156.

“However,” DeWeese said, “in those situations that an individual is at immediate risk of self-harm or harm to others, we would advice that 911 is called for law enforcement intervention.”

DeWeese said that although police jurisdictions have co-responders available, the scheduling of those co-responders is up to each individual jurisdiction. No jurisdiction at this point, he said, has a co-responder available 24/7.

“In the majority of situations,” he said, “calling the crisis line or 988 will result in some level of intervention without law enforcement. Unfortunately, in some instances, when weapons are involved or immediate bodily harm is expressed, the use of law enforcement is really the only option.”

Lynch’s grieving mother, Maria Varnas, said that when her daughter — Brandon’s sister — called police on New Year’s Eve night, she did so because she felt threatened and because, in the past, police had responded and were able to talk her son down, arrest him and get him the help he needed.

She wanted him to get help, she said, not shot and killed.

Varnas was able to view her son’s body for the first time last week, she said. On Friday, she consulted an attorney. Since 2018, Kansas law has allowed the families of individuals killed by police officers to view police body camera footage within 20 days of the request.

“I need to request the body cam from the police,” Varnas said. “I need to see what’s going on.”

This story was originally published January 11, 2023 11:50 AM.

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Olathe police knew man was mentally ill before shooting him

Eric Adler has won numerous national, regional and local awards for his reporting that often tells the extraordinary tales of ordinary people. A graduate of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in NY, he also teaches journalism ethics at the University of Kansas.