In the early morning hours of November 19, 2011, Kenneth Chamberlain Sr., a 68-year-old former Marine with bipolar disorder and a heart condition, accidentally triggered his medical alert device. The medical alert company received the alert. And when Chamberlain did not respond, the operator alerted the police in White Plains, New York.
Police officers were subsequently sent to his home to check on him. The officers, upon arrival at Chamberlain’s apartment, refused to leave until he opened the door to them. Chamberlain reassured the officers that he did not have a medical emergency and that there had been a mistake. Despite this, the officers broke down Chamberlain’s door, tasered him, and then shot and killed him.
Chamberlain was a retired Marine who had worked for the Westchester (New York) County Department of Corrections for 20 years. He was required to wear his LifeAid medical bracelet due to a chronic heart condition. Reports said during the confrontation that ensued between the police and Chamberlain, the police ridiculed his military service and used racial epithets while addressing him.
“Once the door was broken down, they immediately began this full-on assault,” Chamberlain’s son Kenneth Chamberlain Jr. told PEOPLE. “Never once did they try to diffuse the situation.”
Local law enforcement and the justice system were accused of racism. Both did not make any effort to investigate the incident. White Plains police officials’ record of the incident also failed to mention that one of the officers involved, Officer Steven Hart, had used a racial slur to describe Chamberlain. They also did not include the information that the initial call had been for a medical crisis, BlackPast reported.
None of the officers involved were charged with Chamberlain’s death. A jury found neither the police nor the city liable. But Chamberlain’s family appealed the decision in 2018. An appellate court confirmed in June 2020 that the officers had violated Chamberlain’s 4th amendment right by using excessive force and unlawful entry.
Now, a movie titled The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain takes a look at his death and the last moments of his life. Executive produced by Morgan Freeman and Lori McCreary’s Revelations Entertainment, the movie also highlights the need for police reform and accountability.
Chamberlain Jr. told PEOPLE that he also hopes that the movie will be a lesson to law enforcement about how to handle people living with mental health challenges.
“I want this film, if nothing else, to serve as a teaching tool, a teaching tool on what not to do,” he said. “I think of a man who died in a manner that he didn’t have to. That this was just a medical call, and if you would have treated it as such, my father would still be alive today.”
Chamberlain Jr. recently wrote that he listened to the recorded medical alert call and heard his father pleading for officers to leave him alone before his death.
“We know that police officers are not mental health professionals,” he wrote. “In Westchester County, where my father was killed, the mobile crisis prevention and response team doesn’t have enough of a presence in the community. What happens when police are responding to a call involving someone who might be mentally ill with no crisis-intervention team available?
“The absence of a mental health professional on that police call is a recipe for escalation, violence and possibly death, as we’ve seen in the case of my father and many others.”
Chamberlain Jr. continues to fight for justice for his father’s death at the hands of police. He has described his father as a “God-fearing man” and said he went to church every Sunday.
“The day before he was killed, his pastor was saying, ‘Your father was just at the church cleaning the church for Sunday service.’ My father wouldn’t hurt anybody, my father just simply wanted to be left alone.”