By Charlene Muhammad CHARLENEM

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LOS ANGELES – A mentally ill Black woman was expected to know soon if LAPD officers who fought then fatally shot her friend, a mentally ill, homeless unarmed Black man on Skid Row had probable cause to arrest her for merely picking up a nightstick dropped by an officer during the commotion.

Trishawn Carey Photo: Courtesy of Susan Burton/A New Way of Life

Trishawn Carey who was also homeless faces 25 years to life in prison for the March 1 incident in which Charley Keunang was shot and killed by police. Ms. Carey picked up the nightstick from the ground.   Activists argue Ms. Carey has been victimized by the LAPD and the criminal justice system, and shouldn’t have been arrested in the first place. The non-profit organization L.A. Community Action Network (LA-CAN) have been waging a Justice for Trishawn Carey campaign to get her freed of all charges.

She returns to court on August 28.   Milton Grimes, her attorney told The Final Call he’s optimistic there can be movement toward a resolution.   The District Attorney can either continue her case for one month, six months, a year, or they can dismiss it, he said. Ms. Carey still has a huge fight ahead, but is in a much better place than jail and much more conducive for her condition and betterment, he added.

“She’s mentally ill and how is she moment to moment?   I can’t say she’s fine.   I can say that it’s hour to hour, day to day because she could have things that bother her because of her mental illness that I don’t know about at this time,” said Atty. Grimes.  

He said his client’s condition and life has greatly improved since she’s been in a care facility run by Susan Burton called, A New Way of Life.   It is a safe haven and sober living housing program for formerly incarcerated women.  

Atty. Grimes said when he recently visited Ms. Carey she seemed happy, present, responsive and taking her medication under the direction of Ms. Burton and her staff.

“She seems comfortable there, much different than then when I saw her in the county jail.   She was in a humane environment and not locked walls and a cell,” Atty. Grimes added.

“When you look at what has happened over her life, prostituting at 12 by direction of her crackhead mother, born as a crackhead, weighing two pounds, living on and off the streets at 14, arrested a number of times, in and out of prison and mental institutions, she’s lucky to be alive,” he said.  

“I don’t think we can throw mentally ill people on the garbage heap and turn our backs.   We might as well shoot them.   That would be more merciful.”

At her August 13 hearing, Ms. Carey rejected prosecutors’ deal to plead guilty to one felony count of resisting an officer in exchange for probation.   Judge Ray Jurado reduced her bail from over $1 million to $50,000 and last month, ordered her released from jail and sent to A New Way of Life.

During the five months Ms. Carey was in jail, activists charged she was being held by the LAPD as a political prisoner.   Her supporters also charged in a Facebook post announcing that court hearing that her “crime” was “being a witness to the LAPD murder of Charley Keunang, also known as Africa.”

Atty. Grimes believes the judge reduced her bail and took the other steps with understanding and compassion. He also thanked the judge for taking Ms. Carey’s mental state into consideration.

Cynthia Ruffin, an activist with LA-CAN, said Ms. Carey’s case is an example of why it’s so important to have community groups that advocate for those who are marginalized and dealing with extreme poverty.

She told The Final Call that she feared Ms. Carey was rapidly deteriorating in jail and she actually feared the small-framed woman would die there.   But after Judge Jurado remanded her to A New Way of Life, jailers just let her go, Ms. Ruffin stated.

“She was kind of let out the back door. … They dropped her somewhere and she’s dealing with mental health issues, didn’t have a full understanding of what her release meant, but had a piece of paper in her hand that said nothing about being remanded to the custody of her lawyer, nothing about going to a program, and all she could understand is the judge let me go,” Ms. Ruffin told The Final Call.

Immediately, members of her group mobilized, hit the streets and found Ms. Carey within an hour of her being released from jail. She explained that because of Ms. Carey’s mental health issues, the advocates went to great lengths to calm her down and explain that her release meant she either went to the women’s shelter or back to jail. With a lot of coaxing and the help of family members, Ms. Ruffin said they were able to get Ms. Carey into A New Way of Life.

 “Without services like the one that Susan Burton runs, like the Los Angeles Community Action Network, young men and women like Trishawn will get lost, entirely, entirely lost. … She’s already facing a life sentence so with nobody to fight for her, she will go.   They will bury her in a hole for the rest of her life,” said Ms. Ruffin.

Instead, she is now doing wonderfully, said Ms. Ruffin, who attended the August 13 hearing.   “She looked lovely!   She is much calmer.   She’s in a place where she can be reminded of taking her medication on time. … She was clean, looking healthy. She was wide awake.   It was really joyous to see her.”