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Spanish Fork • When the family of William Evans called police, they saw only poor options.
The 28-year-old Spanish Fork man was suffering from schizophrenia, suicidal and needed help. He also was on probation and illegally carrying a gun.
"Do we call police and he goes to prison, guaranteed?" asked his brother, Russell Evans. "Or do we not call and hope for the best?"
But the Evans family said they didn't anticipate a third outcome, the one that unfolded Friday after police found him near his girlfriend's home: William Evans, while armed, "engaged" an officer, who fatally shot him.
"There's gotta be a different tactic for people who are suicidal," Evans said. "If this kind of thing keeps happening, no one is going to call for wellness checks."
William Evans, known as "Willie," had struggled with mental illness and drugs for years. He went to prison in 2010 after failing to meet the terms of his probation in an array of charges from 2007 to 2009, including unlawful acquisition of a credit card, forgery, drug possession and theft. In 2013 he faced felony drug charges but was committed to the Utah State Hospital in Provo for several months after being deemed not competent for trial.
There doctors diagnosed him with schizophrenia, Russell Evans said. Their mother, Deborah Evans, said he previously had turned to street drugs to "self-medicate."
Better, then worse
But after he was released on probation in October, his doctors prescribed helpful medications, Kaitlyn Wilson, Willie Evans girlfriend, said. He got a job working with his brother at a drywall company and was doing well for months.
But recently his condition had begun to deteriorate again, his family said. Early last week he lost his job.
"On Tuesday or Wednesday, he sort of indicated he was done with life," Russell Evans recalled.
A crisis hotline worker told Russell Evans that he might convince Willie to seek treatment. Willie Evans took his brother's suggestion to heart and "was seriously considering" checking into a hospital, Wilson said.
He didn't. He quickly became less stable as the week progressed. On Friday, he apparently misplaced some money and accused Wilson of stealing it, she recalled.
"He was really angry," she said. "When you looked into his eyes, you could see it wasn't him. He was so angry, so confused."
Willie Evans went for a walk to calm down, Wilson said. In the hour that followed, he had multiple phone conversations with his mother and with Wilson, both of whom tried to convince him to return home. Instead he told his mother that he had enough heroin to kill himself and at some point said he had a gun.
"Willie there's still hope," Deborah Evans recalled telling her son.
"Yeah, mom, I know there is," she heard him reply.
But then he said he had injected his drugs and his speech trailed off.
"Willie's in trouble"
Deborah Evans had no car and couldn't search for her son. She called Russell to decide what to do.
"I said she didn't want to be the person at his funeral who should have called for help," Russell Evans said.
But later, when his mother mentioned Willie Evans had a gun, Russell's mind flashed to his brother's repeated claims that he would shoot it out with police before returning to prison, that he would "go out with a bang."
"I started bawling, 'Willie's in trouble,'" Russell Evans said.
"I wish there was a wellness-check immunity," he added, arguing that criminal justice goals shouldn't interfere with a lifesaving intervention.
When Spanish Fork police go on a welfare call, "the well-being of the individual is the officer's main concern," said Spanish Fork police Lt. Matt Johnson. "Whether they are a convicted felon or have a criminal past that doesn't have any affect on how they handle the call."
If officers believe someone requires emergency commitment, they may call a crisis counselor for a phone evaluation before taking the patient to a hospital.
But, he said, a subject who is armed will prompt other, "appropriate action," and officers may ultimately open a criminal case based on what they discover in the encounter.
Willie Evans already was suspicious of police, his family said. He was passionate about civil liberties and distressed by what he saw as police overreach. About a week before his death, Wilson said, Willie Evans was pointing her to online video of a patrol stop where an officer somewhere brandished a gun with an unarmed civilian. Willie Evans was angry about what he considered to be an excessive display of force.
"He believed he couldn't trust that the cops would follow his rights, and they'd take advantage of the fact that they were in charge," Russell Evans said.
As officers arrived at Wilson's home, Willie Evans was watching. He called his mother again. "Why are there cops at Kaitlyn's? Mom, come over," she recalled him saying.
Wilson said officers asked her where Willie Evans was, assuring her that "no one was getting in trouble, no one was going to jail."
Investigators pinged his cell phone to a spot nearby, at 300 E. Center St., and found Willie Evans on the grounds of an LDS church close to Wilson's house.
Wilson said she heard gunfire about two minutes after officers left her home.
Spanish Fork Police have said Senior Patrol Officer Lance Rudd found Willie Evans, who "engaged" Rudd; however, police have not said whether Evans pointed or fired his gun at Rudd. Rudd fired on Evans, killing him.
"He was cornered in" by a wall at the church, said Wilson, who ran outside upon hearing the shots.
Spanish Fork police have released no new details of what happened between Evans and Rudd and say they anticipate a report on the shooting next week.
Evans' family wonders whether officers did all they could to slow down the encounter.
"If my brother had taken someone hostage, the cops would have done everything in their power to protect the person. They wouldn't get near him, they'd try to talk him down," said Willie Evans' sister, Amberlee Evans. "My brother had taken himself hostage. They could have treated him like he had a hostage. But they didn't treat him like he was a suicide or mentally ill. Now we're all regretting we called the cops."
Russell Evans said he anticipates the Utah County Attorney's review will find Rudd acted legally "but why get so close to him so quick?"
Deborah Evans said she fears officers felt her son was disposable.
"I think they jumped the gun because he had record," Deborah Evans said. "He's got a gun and he's a felon, so let's just kill him."
Amberlee Evans said police go to "great lengths" to help people in distress, but need to deal more slowly with people suffering from mental illness.
"We aren't against cops, we just want to see things change," she said. "It seems like things are getting out of hand with all the shootings."
For a person threatening suicide, Russell Evans argued, the appearance of police is becoming seen as a guarantee of success.
"It's almost as easy as jumping off a building," he said.