North Royalton woman pushes for police reform after death of mentally ill brother
CUYAHOGA COUNTY, Ohio (WOIO) - When a person is suffering from a mental health crisis police are often called to step in, but as cases across the country have shown, those calls sometimes end in tragedy.
For the first time, Julia Rielinger shared her brother’s story on camera with 19 News.
Jun Wang was shot to death by North Royalton police officers back in 2016 when he was 45 years old.
The officers were supposed to get Rielinger’s mentally ill brother help and take him to the hospital.
Rielinger believes if these officers had followed their training guidelines, her brother would still be alive.
“They say your brother did not make it and then the nurse told me if they here five minutes early, we could have saved him,” Rielinger said as tears streamed down her face.
Julia Rielinger and her younger brother, Jun Wang, came to Ohio from China hoping to achieve the American dream.
“I never know there’s this police brutality in this country,” explained Rielinger. “Otherwise, my parents probably would never send me here and, but I feel like God put us here. We’re calling to make a difference.”
Rielinger’s dream was crushed on Oct. 28, 2016, when her brother was shot and killed by North Royalton police officers.
“I promise to my parents, I’ll find a way to reverse my brother’s illness instead, he was killed right in front of me,” Rielinger said.
Rielinger’s brother suffered from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
He was living with her in North Royalton but had recently stopped taking his medication.
So, she felt she had no choice but to get a probate order from the court, which allows police to take someone suffering from a mental illness to a hospital for treatment.
“I said we need to get a translator,” recalled Rielinger. “So he goes, you guys just go we’ll meet you there. So then when we get to outside the house, there’s no EMS I said, I don’t want to go in here without EMS, and then Kimmel just rush in front of me go to the house very aggressively.”
Rielinger said she asked officers Kip MacDonald and Jason Kimmel to wait for EMS and to let her go into the house and explain the situation to her brother before police took him to the hospital.
She said she told officers her brother didn’t speak English.
“I want to go explain to him why Kimmel and MacDonald are here because he’s very afraid of police,” explained Rielinger.
She said the officers ignored their training on how to respond to someone suffering from a mental health crisis and stormed into her home.
“And here comes Kimmel wave this order in front of my brother screaming, ‘I got this order!’ and then my brother’s like stunned and just dropped whatever he was eating, he’s eating this cheese cracker on a little tray, and he just say, ‘No, no no!’ So, he just run right away behind him is steps to second floor so he just run right away, and then he just tried to get away from… he’s terrified because Kimmel is screaming, yelling, he does not understand English, but then the screaming yelling sound that would terrify anybody so instead of back off as the training told them he just ran right away chase my brother upstairs,” Rielinger said.
Before she could run up the stairs after her brother, she said she heard the first shot.
“The next thing is like, boom,” she said. “I never heard a gunshot in my whole life in person and the next thing I hear my brother screaming, ‘No, no’ so loud. The whole house it’s like a two-floor house, it’s shaking.”
Rielinger said when she got upstairs, she found the two officers standing there with her brother on the ground.
“I’m looking at my brother, his face was scrunched up in so much pain and then his two hands cuffed,” she said.
Police said Wang stabbed Officer Kimmel in the leg and face with a kitchen knife and that’s when MacDonald shot wang in his side.
“He was screaming no and I’m trying to calm him down. I did not realize he was shot.”
Rielinger claims MacDonald shot Wang a second time right in front of her when both his hands were cuffed, but according to police reports, Officer MacDonald said he shot Wang two times in a row after he stabbed his partner.
After her brother’s death, she fell into a deep depression, but eventually, she found a new purpose and started the Jun Wang Foundation to fight for justice for her brother.
“You have to go on, you have to be a voice for your brother and others,” she said. “So, your brother would not die in vain.”
19 Investigates discovered both officers had undergone de-escalating mental health crisis training in 2012.
“They just totally ignored the training,” Rielinger claims.
Since this tragedy has happened, 19 Investigates discovered the number of mental health calls North Royalton police have had to respond to has increased dramatically.
“That’s the symptom of people suffer schizophrenia right then they have a delusion,” said Rielinger. “So, they carry a knife is trying to protect themselves. They’re not out there to hurt other people. I got to be a voice to my brother and so I, establish Jun Wang Foundation, and, and I can, I feel like I’m doing what my brother loves. He loves people. He’s very compassionate. In his life, he never killed ants and when he’s very sick, that’s not him. So that’s another thing I want to raise mental health awareness is when people suffer mentally, don’t treat them like criminals because that’s just their illness symptoms.”
According to records, 19 Investigates received from North Royalton police mental health calls have shot up since Wang’s death.
In 2016, North Royalton police responded to 77 psychiatric calls.
Last year in 2021 they responded to 119 calls, which is a nearly 55% increase.
In 2016 Wang’s death was the only mental health-related call where police used force.
Our investigation uncovered last year officers responded with physical force four times when responding to mental health emergencies.
We wanted to know how that compares to other cities.
According to Ohio’s use of force database, in 2021 Canton police used force twice when dealing with someone with a mental health condition.
In Strongsville, it was the same just two incidents.
During the same time in Cleveland, police used force 27 times, and Shaker Heights police never responded to mental health calls with force.
“We should not allow the police to bully the citizen or kill the citizen,” Rielinger said.
The two officers involved in Wang’s shooting still work for the department and neither faced criminal charges for Wang’s death.
Rielinger filed a civil suit against the department that’s still pending.
She is suing North Royalton and the police department claiming her brother’s death was preventable.
Rielinger is demanding both officers face criminal charges.
19 Investigates reached out to the city for an interview, but the city’s law director declined my request.
The North Royalton mother hopes her brother’s death will be a catalyst for police reform here locally and across the country.
“I think it came to light for us during the social justice movement, right after, after the death of George Floyd,” explained Shaker Heights Police Chief, Jeffrey DeMuth.
She’s now looking to cities like Shaker Heights, cities testing out new ways to respond to these types of calls.
“Everything that came about, with that highlighted the need for mental health professionals to respond to these types of calls,” DeMuth said.
For the past nine months, social worker Annette Amistadi has joined the team of first responders in Shaker Heights, riding along with paramedics and police when these calls come in.
“I see myself as a resource,” said Amistadi, Manager of the Mental Health Response Team in Shaker Heights. “I see myself as somebody who has different training and a different background, and I’m there for a different reason.”
Amistadi’s training helps her de-escalate the situation.
“My name’s Annette,” the social worker said in a body camera video obtained by 19 Investigates from a call Amistadi responded to. “I’m a social worker. What is it that you need?”
“He doesn’t really do well with cops,” a woman told an officer in the body camera video.
“No, I know, that’s why we’re letting her talk to him,” the Shaker Heights officer replied.
Amistadi can immediately connect the person experiencing the crisis with resources.
“I still remember you know, the first time I was in the squad, I was like, ‘Okay, this is so different.’” recalled Amistadi. “You know, I had adrenaline I was like, this is very exciting so when we’re on those calls, and we’re driving to it, you know, hearing what’s going on and being in real time and thinking quickly it’s totally different from what I’m used to.”
Shaker Heights is hoping to expand the program to cities across the country.
Rielinger is hoping more police departments will add social workers to their team of first responders.
She would also like to see more police departments using non-lethal weapons, especially when dealing with someone suffering from a mental health crisis.
19 News has learned that five years after Wang’s death North Royalton police officers still do not have tasers.
However, they do now have body cameras and dash cameras, which they didn’t have in 2016.
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