The family of a woman who was shot and killed by a Laurens County Sheriff’s deputy Saturday night spoke publicly for the first time since her death on Wednesday after apparently getting the access to materials from the LCSO and South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) investigation into the incident.
After first questioning an LCSO deputy’s use of lethal force and what they perceived as a lack of transparency from the LCSO and SLED, the family and attorney Justin Bamberg said Wednesday that Kalah Gary fell through the cracks of the state’s mental health system, and that led to her death.
Gary, 26, was shot and killed after deputies responded to a a 9-1-1 call on Old Stable Lane in Laurens. According to Bamberg, who was retained as the family’s attorney, Gary made the call herself and reported an attempted break-in while her parents were working on separate parts of the property outside the home.
“Who was the burglar? A person who didn’t exist,” Bamberg said.
The incident is still under investigation, so neither the LCSO nor SLED will comment on what happened, but the family and Bamberg recounted the events that led up to Gary’s death.
Instead of finding a burglar, deputies were confronted by Gary, who the family said had a sharp object and a “projectile device that looks like a firearm.”
“It’s made to look, feel, operate to be perceived as a real-life firearm,” Bamberg said.
The family also said deputies attempted to use non-lethal means – a taser and bean-bag rounds – to subdue Gary, but were unable to do so.
“She’s yelling, ‘Kill me,'” Bamberg said. “She’s yelling, ‘Kill me.'”
On Monday a group of about 20 protesters gathered in front of the Laurens County Sheriff’s Office to demand transparency from the LCSO and SLED. Bamberg said both agencies were transparent.
“It’s not a citizen versus law enforcement,” he said. “This is a crack in the system that needs repairing. It’s no different than a road we drive on to get to our destination,” he said. “How long are going to keep running over the crack.”
Gary had a recent history of mental illness. She went missing for several hours this past March, causing the LCSO to use its social media platforms and a “be-on-the-lookout (BOLO)” advisory to help locate her. Other incidents dated back to January and another the week of her death, said Derrick Quarles, a family spokesman.
Bamberg said Gary was schizophrenic, and her family had been trying to get her the help she needed for several months.
“She was loving,” said Troy Williams, Gary’s father. “She was kind. But my daughter was sick, and she needed help. The mental health system failed my daughter.”
Gary had been hospitalized at one point, the family said, but the treatment and aftercare was ineffectual.
“Had my daughter been helped, she would probably still be here,” Williams said. “We can’t bring her back, but our daughter’s life can mean something.”
The family is asking for better procedures for law enforcement officers to deal with those with mental illnesses and more funding, training and resources for officers and mental health counselors to help those in need.