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Car chase leads to police shooting a mentally ill Black woman

Michelle Lee Shirley' (Photo Source: SAN DIEGO HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES)
Michelle Lee Shirley (Photo source: SAN DIEGO HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES)

A frightening scene played out on the streets of Torrance, California, yesterday after a police encounter. Law enforcement received multiple 911 calls about an “erratic and reckless” driver who had just fled the scene of a car crash. The driver, later identified as San Diego resident Michelle Lee Shirley, drove away with her side airbags deployed to the shock of many witnesses. Police were quickly able to locate Shirley and boxed her vehicle in with police cruisers.

Instead of surrendering to police, she backed up, striking a police cruiser and then moved forward. A police officer in front of Shirley’s moving vehicle fired at least once. Shirley then veered off and other officers opened fire as the vehicle hit a gas station sign. Shirley was taken to a nearby hospital with multiple gunshot wounds and later died. According to her family, she suffered from manic bipolar disorder. “I don’t know what was going through her head as she was driving or trying to get away, I can’t even imagine. But why did they have to kill her?” Shirley’s mother, Debra Shirley, said to the media.

Shirley’s mental illness was well documented after she appeared in a mental health campaign. As part of the campaign known as “It’s Up to Us,”  she stated that her battle with mental illness started when she was studying law in San Diego. During that time, she suffered from hallucinations and states in the 2011 video, “I started sleeping less and less. I started having an overload of creative ideas one after another and I wasn’t completing any. I did strange things. One time I went out and just bought a bunch of plants and gave them away. I shaved my head.”

Shirley was a single mother who initially overcame her episode but relapsed while getting her law degree from Loyola University in Chicago. She states in the video, “I ended up setting a fire in my condo because I had this crazy idea that my vent was a fireplace.”

An autopsy is scheduled to be performed that will include blood and alcohol testing. It is not known yet how many times Shirley was shot or if she was taking any medication.

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