Family of Woman Killed by Police Speaks Out

The family of a woman who was fatally wounded by Los Angeles area police says she suffered from bipolar disorder.

Michelle Lee Shirley, 39, was shot and killed by Torrance police on Monday, Oct. 31, according to Los Angeles County coroner’s reports.

Shirley, a Black woman who was raised in San Diego, had recently relocated to the Los Angeles area.

Police reportedly responded to several calls on Monday afternoon concerning a reckless driver. Callers claimed the woman, later identified as Shirley, was driving a Ford Fusion with outward damage to the vehicle and the side airbags out.

When officers arrived on the scene near a gas station, they boxed the car in, the report said. Police say Shirley acted erratically. She backed into a patrol car and then drove forward into another cruiser. That’s when at least two officers opened fire on Shirley.

She was taken to County Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead around 3 p.m. The incident was recorded by pedestrians nearby.

While the shooting is being investigated by Torrance’s Special Operations Bureau and the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office, Shirley’s family members believe the ordeal was mishandled due to her bipolar disorder.

Shirley, the mother of a young boy, had come to grips with the disease, and even reflected on the impact it had on her life in an It’s Up to Us campaign video. She urged others to accept their diagnosis and seek help.

“Ignoring it,” she said in the visual posted in 2011, “can take years away from your life.”

Her mother, Debra Shirley, told reporters at The Daily Breeze she didn’t know what was going through her [daughter’s] head as she was driving or trying to get away.

“I can’t even imagine,” she said. “But why did they have to kill her?”

The Shirley family shared several occurrences where Michelle’s illness spiraled out of control, including an episode where she thought the Mafia was looking for her, and a time when she was arrested for throwing french fries inside of a McDonald’s.

However, they say, she never used drugs or showed signs of being violent.

“I feel like they paint people of color with a brush that says: ‘You’re disposable,’” Debra Shirley said. “I really feel like police are not equipped to deal with mental illness in the field. Shoot the tires or disable the car.”