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From attorney to mental illness: The police shooting of Dennis Bodden

Cleopatra Bodden in New York with her son, Dennis Bodden, who was shot and killed by a Pineville police sargent
Cleopatra Bodden
Cleopatra Bodden in New York with her son, Dennis Bodden, who was shot and killed by a Pineville police sergeant on May 14, 2024.

For years, Dennis Bodden worked as a New York state attorney representing people with mental disabilities.

His family says it was his own diagnosis with bipolar schizophrenia that led a Pineville police sergeant to fatally shoot him on May 14 after he allegedly stole food and wine from a Food Lion grocery store in south Charlotte.

Pineville police have continued to withhold the identities of the officers involved and their disciplinary records. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department is conducting an outside investigation, including evaluating whether the officers could face charges.

Here's everything we know about the case so far:

Pineville police say Bodden was shoplifting wine and produce

Most of what we know about the events leading up to the shooting comes from a May 15 statement from the Pineville Police Department.

In the statement, police said they were called to the Food Lion on Johnston Road on a report of shoplifting.

A police sergeant who was working off-duty at the McMullen Creek Shopping Center, where the Food Lion is located, went to the grocery store's parking lot and found Bodden carrying $83.95 worth of wine and produce.

In their statement, police described Bodden as a "chronic" shoplifter who was "very well known" to police and who had "violent tendencies." He had four outstanding felony warrants for breaking and entering and larceny from the Johnston Road store.

The officer ordered Bodden to stop, but Bodden continued walking across Johnston Road toward his apartment where he lived alone, according to family members, as the officer followed and called for backup.

Police said the sergeant used a Taser on Bodden following a physical confrontation, but Bodden continued to move away from the officer toward Cedar Circle Drive.

On police radio communications obtained by The Charlotte Observer, an officer is heard saying Bodden bit him. A second officer who arrived on scene used a Taser on Bodden a second time.

According to the police department's statement, the second officer's Taser had "little to no effect on Mr. Bodden," and he "lunged towards our sergeant and tried to grab his service weapon, ending up with the use of deadly force."

Bodden was shot and killed in the parking lot of the Berkshire Apartments. Police said he was unarmed.

Family members say Bodden, who was once a New York state attorney, was struggling with bipolar schizophrenia

Bodden's mother, Cleopatra Bodden, told WFAE her son was an only child who studied biochemistry in college, then decided to become an attorney to help people with mental disabilities.

From 2014 to 2019, he was a senior attorney for the state of New York's Mental Hygiene Legal Service agency, where he represented people with mental illnesses, his former employer confirmed.

But Bodden's own mental health began to decline during the COVID-19 pandemic, his mother said. In 2021, he was diagnosed with bipolar schizophrenia. Months later, he moved to Charlotte for warmer weather.

His aunt, Julia Bodden, was already living in Charlotte at the time, and said it was clear to her that her nephew was struggling with his mental health.

"As long as he was taking his medication, he was fine," she said. "But when he stopped taking the medication, that's when he started having problems."

His mother and aunt said Bodden regularly heard the voice of his father, who died when he was young, talking to him.

They said they were convinced Bodden was mentally unwell at the time of the shooting. When they collected his belongings, he had more than $100 in his wallet, they said — more than enough to pay for the items he was accused of stealing.

Dennis Bodden poses with family. Bodden was shot and killed by a Pineville police sergeant on May 14, 2024.
Cleopatra Bodden
Dennis Bodden poses with family. Bodden was killed by a Pineville police sergeant on May 14, 2024.

The family will request officers' body camera footage of the incident; unclear when investigation will conclude

Bodden's mother, who immigrated to the U.S. from Honduras and now lives in New Jersey, said she received a call from Pineville Police Chief Michael Hudgins about a week after the shooting. She said he apologized to her on behalf of the officer who killed her son.

"He talked about his religion and everything, and I appreciate that," she said, "But my question to them is where was your god when you shot my son like a dog? Where was your god that you didn't see the humanity in my son? Why? Why? Why didn't you see the humanity in him? And that is an answer that they're not giving me."

She said if Bodden was well known to police, they should have known he was struggling with his mental health and approached him differently.

"You cannot approach (mentally ill people) with a gun," she said, "because most of the time — like my son, he was manic. So their reaction is not going to be like a normal person."

His mother said she believed officers "saw another Black man that they could kill, and it would be OK."

In a June 3 statement, Pineville police said the officers involved were not aware of Bodden's history of mental illness. The statement also said Pineville police do not have a mental health unit to respond to people in crisis.

Bodden's mother and aunt said they planned to file a formal request to view officers' body camera footage of the shooting. Once a request is filed, Pineville police will have three days to petition a court, which will issue a decision within seven business days on whether the family can view the footage.

In a statement to WFAE, Pineville police said they did not plan to seek permission from a court to release the footage to the public, though the footage could still be released if members of the public or the news media make a compelling argument to a judge that the footage should be made public.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department is conducting a criminal investigation into the shooting, while the Pineville Police Department conducts an internal investigation. Both officers involved in the shooting are on paid administrative leave.

The North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation is also conducting a review of the shooting.

Nick de la Canal is an on air host and reporter covering breaking news, arts and culture, and general assignment stories. His work frequently appears on air and online. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal