Family wants answers in Gwinnett cop shooting of mom, daughter

Officer distraught after killing mom, daughter

A 25-year-old man wants know how his mother’s suicide threats led to a Gwinnett County police officer fatally shooting her — and his 74-year-old grandmother.

A Gwinnett County Police officer shot and killed Barbara Baker, 74, and Penny Schwartz, 51, around 9 p.m. Tuesday at their Duluth home.

Derrick Schwartz, 25, was at his Chicago home Tuesday night when his mother, Penny, called, threatening to kill herself. She then hung up, he said Wednesday.

The mother, who has Crohn’s Disease, takes a lot of medication and sounded not like herself, the son said.

He immediately called his grandmother, Baker, who said she had called police and had the situation under control.

The next phone call he received was from a neighbor, saying both his mother and grandmother were dead.

“You come for a suicide attempt and start mowing people down,” Derrick Schwartz said. “I don’t understand.”

Penny Schwartz had said she wanted police to kill her, Gwinnett Police spokeswoman Cpl. Illana Spellman said.

But the responding officer didn’t know that, Spellman said. The only thing the officer, who police declined to identify, knew was that the woman had threatened suicide.

The officer arrived at the family’s Tracey Drive home Tuesday and began talking with Baker. During the conversation, Penny Schwartz came downstairs and pointed a gun at the officer, police said.

The officer fired, striking both women several times.

“They say my grandmother tried to step in the way to prevent mom from shooting the cop,” Derrick Schwartz said. “But there is no way my grandmother could be faster than a bullet.”

Baker died at the family’s home. Penny Schwartz was rushed to the hospital, where she later died.

“They shot mom three times in the stomach. That’s a little excessive,” Derrick Schwartz said.

Spellman couldn’t confirm if the grandmother stepped into the officer’s line of fire or how many shots were fired. Spellman said the officer didn’t have all of the information and felt threatened.

“There is no way that the officer was expecting for the daughter to point a gun at her,” Spellman said. “[The officer] was shaking last night, she was upset about what happened.”

Investigators have placed the officer, who is a 10-year veteran, on administrative leave. They are hoping to learn more from a 911 call and an autopsy.

Baker told officers Penny Schwartz had taken her medication, in addition to illegal drugs, police said.

Regardless of what his mother had taken or said, it still can’t explain to Derrick Schwartz why his grandmother ended up dead.

Al Sherrer, who lives at the end of a long driveway next door to the Penny Schwartz, said he didn’t know about the shooting Tuesday until a police officer knocked on his door.

“I feel sorry for the lady cop. She didn’t know what was going on,” said Sherrer, 77. “Penny had some troubles and Ms. Baker took care of her. She worked all the time to take care of Penny.”

Baker worked at Home Depot and was the sole caregiver for her daughter. Penny Schwartz was on disability and unable to work, the son said.

“She took care of everyone,” said Paula Wisniewski, Derrick’s Schwartz’s girlfriend. “She never stayed still, was always up moving around even on her days off.”

The mother and daughter lived in a cul-de-sac and worked hard to keep their lawn well-manicured. Baker didn’t let her age or health woes get in the way of caring for her flowers and cat “Kitty,” Wisniewski said.

Derrick Schwartz arrived from Chicago Wednesday afternoon, picked up his grandmother’s cat from the shelter and then drove to the Duluth home he grew up in. Flower arrangements and cards from neighbors sat on the door.

Schwartz said the death of a friend who died in a car wreck a few weeks ago could have caused his mother to take extra medication.

“It’s a really a bad situation. I didn’t even know my mom had a gun,” he said. “Something could have been done besides what happened.”

Suicide-by-cop incidents

The Gwinnett County Police Department does not keep statistics on suicide-by-cop incidents or attempts. However, the department recorded seven officer-involved shootings in 2007, six in 2008 and four so far in 2009.

A study published in the March issue of the Journal of Forensic Sciences found that about 36 percent of officer-involved shootings could be classified as suicide-by-cop. The findings by researcher Kris Mohandie were based on a study of 707 North American officer-involved shootings.

Mohandie said in an email Wednesday that females who involve themselves in deadly force encounters are more likely to be suicidal than males. For women, 57 percent of officer-involved shootings are believed to be suicide-by-cop.

There are various reasons someone would prefer to die at the hands of a police officer, said James Drylie, who co-authored a book focusing on the problem called “Copicide.” Drylie worked as a law enforcement officer for 25 years and is currently chairperson of the criminal justice department at Kean University in Union, N.J.

“It may be the person doesn’t have the fortitude to commit suicide or has religious beliefs that if I kill myself I would go to hell,” said Drylie.

Drylie said officers often struggle with the emotional aftermath of such encounters, agonizing over whether they did the right thing or responded correctly to what was happening.

“Cops are trained to control the situation,” Drylie explained. “Suicide by cop takes that control away from you.”

-- Andria Simmons

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