Two days after a University of Chicago Police Department (UCPD) officer shot and seriously injured a 28-year-old man apparently suffering from a mental health condition, the Illinois State’s Attorney Office approved criminal charges against the man in connection with the shooting.

Authorities identified the man as 28-year-old Rhysheen Wilson on Jan. 20. He’s been charged with attempted murder of a police officer, aggravated discharge of a firearm, and aggravated unauthorized use of a weapon. 

Wilson has no affiliation with UChicago, officials said, and he remains in critical condition. As first reported by The TRiiBE on Tuesday, audio accessed from the Chicago Police Department (CPD) scanner website crimeisdown.com captured a dispatcher telling officers that Wilson is schizophrenic and waving a gun. As of publishing time, authorities have not responded to our questions about Wilson’s mental health history. 

This week’s shooting marked the third police shooting on or near UChicago’s campus since 2018. With the release of UCPD body camera footage on Wednesday, many questions have emerged regarding how police officers should respond to people in mental distress and whether or not police are justified in shooting someone regardless of their mental health condition.

Authorities identified the officer who shot Wilson as Nicolas Twardak. He’s been with the UCPD since 2016 and has been placed on mandatory administrative leave pending an investigation by UCPD and CPD, which is overseeing the investigation. UChicago falls within CPD’s second police district.

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According to police, and the body camera footage, Wilson was walking south on Woodlawn near 53rd Street with a handgun drawn. When Twardak stepped out of his police car, Wilson fired shots. 

Twardak took cover and repeatedly told Wilson — who was walking towards the officer — to get on the ground before shooting him. (Editor’s note: The TRiiBE does not display harmful or trauma-inducing images. You can view the body camera footage here).

“I hope that he survives, and that we’re able to hear his side of the story because the thing we have to keep in mind is we probably won’t,” Kofi Ademola, 39, said. Ademola is a long-time community organizer who has lived in the Woodlawn near UChicago’s campus for nearly 14 years.  “We probably won’t be able to hear what he was going through [and] how he ended up in that situation and we’re just not going to hear that and that’s the sad part.” 

Tuesday’s shooting was the second time Twardak shot someone within UCPD’s jurisdiction. 

Back in 2018, Twardak shot then-UCPD student Charles Soji Thomas, who was said to be smashing car windows with a metal bar and charged at Twardak when he arrived on scene. According to multiple news outlets, Thomas was experiencing a mental health crisis at the time. 

However, Thomas was charged with eight felonies including, assaulting a police officer and criminal property damage. The charges against Thomas were dropped in May 2020.  

Twardak was placed on administrative leave during that investigation. The university later said the shooting was justified, and that his actions “were consistent with applicable law,” UChicago associate director of public affairs Gerald McSwiggan said in a written statement on Thursday morning.

In 2019, a CPD SWAT Team officer fatally shot 22-year-old Myles Frazier at his home on the 6100 block of South Kenwood Avenue near campus. He did odd jobs at UChicago, according to his sister Natalie Frazier, who spoke to The TRiiBE back in November 2021. He, too, was in mental distress at the time of the shooting. (Editor’s note: Natalie Frazier is a contributing writer for The TRiiBE).

Frazier was bipolar and had recently relocated from Arizona back home to Chicago, his sister told The TRiiBE. While in Arizona, he’d gotten into some legal trouble. 

The night before he was killed, according to his sister, Frazier and his father talked about resolving those legal troubles by turning himself into the police for his outstanding warrants.

“He might have been manic when he was agreeing to these things, who knows, but something happened the morning of that day where he just no longer wanted to turn himself in and he was armed,” Frazier said about her brother. She wasn’t at their father’s home when her brother was killed.

She said it seemed like her brother had a mental breakdown, and his goal was to harm himself. He started to yell at their father and told him that he was going to hurt himself. So, their father called the police and told them that her brother was bipolar. CPD came to the house and tried to talk through it with Frazier, his sister said.

“He was having a breakdown that was kind of irritated and agitated by CPD and then he began to just shoot into a closet with the clear intention of getting them to shoot back and they did,” Frazier said, explaining what happened just before her brother’s death. 

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, her brother fired at least five shots. Within an hour of the standoff, two officers — Daniel Colbenson and Orlando Sanchez Jr. — shot Frazier. He died at UChicago’s Medical Center. Both officers were placed on desk duty for 30 days. 

“The university has shown no interest in addressing the demands of our organization or Black south side organizations,” third-year UChicago student Warren Wagner told The TRiiBE on Tuesday after Wilson’s shooting  “They have expanded attacks on Black communities through expanding their gentrification, through new dormitories and new developments, and expanding policing as we saw just a few months ago.”

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Wagner is a member of #CareNotCops, a UChicago student group formed in the aftermath of Thomas’ shooting in 2018. The organization is committed to building alternatives to policing, adding more mental health resources for students of color and communities surrounding the university, and redirecting police dollars to communities to be used for things like mental health. They organized to get Thomas’s charges dropped.

Wagner said UChicago should use its resources to support reparations and community-based organizations on the South Side, like GoodKids MadCity (GKMC), which is organizing support for its Peacebook Ordinance.

GKMC’s Peacebook Ordinance would allocate two percent of the CPD’s police budget to community-run services such as violence interruption, education, mental health programs, and more. The ordinance has not been introduced to City Council.

There’s also the “Treatment Not Trauma” ordinance,  introduced to the Chicago City Council by Ald. Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez (33rd Ward) back in 2020.

Rodriguez’s “Treatment Not Trauma” Ordinance would establish 24-hour crisis response teams within the city’s public health department and deploy them citywide. The response teams would be equipped with a clinical social worker, emergency medical professional, or registered nurse. 

If the “Treatment Not Trauma” Ordinance is approved by Chicago City Council, the crisis response teams would respond to mental health calls instead of CPD, which typically responds to and handles mental health crisis calls. According to a WBEZ news report, CPD officers responded to more than 41,000 calls with a “mental health component” in 2019. 

Rodriguez’s “Treatment Not Trauma” Ordinance is modeled after a similar program in Eugene, Oregon called CAHOOTS. It’s been running for over 30 years. According to a separate 2015 report by the Treatment Advocacy Center, “people with severe mental illness are 16 times more likely to be shot and killed by police than people without mental illness.” 

Although the ordinance has not been moved out of committee or been brought to the City Council floor, a two-year pilot program called the Crisis Assistance Response and Engagement program (CARE) is underway. The city’s department of public health launched CARE in September 2021. The program has two teams based on the north and south side. The teams respond around the clock to mental health calls in 13 neighborhoods across Chicago, excluding Hyde Park and UCPD’s jurisdiction.

Each CARE team includes a police officer, a paramedic and mental health crisis intervention professional. In addition, the team responds to mental health emergency calls. As of publishing time, it’s unclear what, if any, impact the program has had on the communities that it’s set up shop in.

“When police approach a situation like this with someone in distress, they’re trained and prepared to respond to someone as an aggressor [or] an agitator,” said Claudio Rivera, assistant professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics in the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University. “And as a result, that means that then they are going to use force and violence against that person, including things like tasers, restraints, and obviously, guns and any other physical force that’s needed.” 

CPD and police departments nationwide have repeatedly come under fire for how they react to people in mental distress. For example, in 2015, ex-CPD officer Robert Rialmo shot and killed 19-year-old Quintonio LeGrier, who was experiencing mental health issues. During that shooting, Rialmo also killed LeGrier’s neighbor, 55-year-old Bettie Jones. Jones was standing behind LeGrier when the shots were fired into the apartment building.

“We know, especially during this pandemic, we’re going through a mental health crisis right now,” Ademola said. “We should all be empathetic and caring about the mental state that our fellow human beings are in and figure out ways to respond, that are empathetic, that are caring, that de-escalate, that are restorative. We’re not seeing that. We see violence as the first kind of approach to it and then get surprised when violence is met with violence.”

is a multimedia producer for The TRiiBE.