What changes can be made in order to protect not just the lives of the officers and the public but the mentally ill as well?
One of the many documented incidents of a mentally ill person and the police is case of Daniel Erick Blackmon, 38, of Marshall County. Blackmon wounded four motorists in two counties AL.com reported . That was before law enforcement could catch up with him. He died in a shootout, and a sheriff’s deputy said it was a crime spree with “no rhyme or reason.”
But there was a reason according to Blackmon’s father who considers his being bipolar as the reason and in his opinion being off medication aggravated the situation.
A typical approach of police officers and deputies in such situation is to bring them to jail until better care is available. That’s one reason Alabama’s sheriffs say they need help.
Most of the 40 sheriffs and chief deputies who responded to an AL.com survey this year said they had people in their jails needing mental health care. Most said they had trouble finding that care for people in their custody and their officers weren’t trained to deal with a mental health crisis.
The report also mentioned that since the beginning of 2015, ten Alabama men and women with mental illness were killed by police or deputies. In each of those cases, the lives of the police and the people in the middle were also in danger.
In a split second life or death circumstance law enforcement doesn’t not have the time to question themselves, is this person mentally ill. They must react or possibly get seriously injured or even killed. Unfortunately under these circumstances it is a no win situation.
Retired New Windsor, N.Y., police chief Michael Biasotti said in an August interview that law enforcement understands it because they’re dealing with it every day. He has a daughter with mental illness and he advocates training all police officers to deal with it.
Biasotti also said “But in most cases, you’re trained to protect your life and somebody else’s life. You respond to a level of threat, and when the level of threat starts off with something that could be deadly force the guy’s coming at you with a knife you meet that with the same force. Deadly force back.” “It’s not your job to determine why he’s trying to kill you.” Also in this scenario you dont have time or care if the person who is coming at you with a knife is mentally ill or not. You do what’s necessary to protect yourself and fellow officers.
AL.com listed the nine other fatal confrontations they found between Alabama authorities and the mentally ill since the start of 2015:
1. April 3, 2016: Melissa Boarts, 36, was shot by Auburn police on a street in Macon County. Officers were responding to a report of a suicidal person, and Boarts reportedly threatened them with a knife.
2. Oct. 4, 2015: Eric Edgell, 27, shot at Muscle Shoals and Sheffield officers responding to a report of a man with a gun threatening suicide. Edgell’s fiancée said he suffered from depression, anxiety, and PTSD. He reportedly turned his gun on officers and fired.
3. Sept. 19, 2015: Scott Beech, 57, was stopped by a Washington County, Ala., a deputy responding to a domestic dispute call. Beech, wildly upset, pointed a handgun at the deputy, who tried to knock it out of his hand. Beech pointed the gun again, reports said, and the deputy shot him.
4. Aug. 20, 2015: Jeffory Ray Tevis, 50, was shocked with a stun gun and then shot by Tuscaloosa police after running at an officer with a large spoon and grappling with him. Family members said he was having “a mental episode” at the time.
5. May 25, 2015: Anthony Briggs, 36, was shot by Huntsville police after attacking his brother and neighbor with a knife and running at officers with the knife in his hands. Briggs had a personality disorder.
6. March 19, 2015: Shane Watkins, 39, was shot by Lawrence County deputies who say he lunged at them with a knife. Watkins’ family said he was delusional and off his medication.
7. March 11, 2015: William Russel Smith, 53, was shot by Hoover police who went to his apartment on a domestic disturbance call and found him with a gun. Smith’s family told police Smith was off his medication.
8. Feb. 20, 2015: Douglas Harris, 77, was shot by a Birmingham police officer who went along with firefighters to Harris’ apartment to check on his welfare. Harris, who suffered from dementia, pointed a gun at the officer.
9. Feb. 11: 2015, Fletcher Ray Stewart, 46, was shot by a Tallapoosa County deputy after a chase. He had a BB gun and waved it at the deputy. Stewart’s family said he was mentally ill.
Although in all of these cases, the responding officers and deputies are alive, there’s another risk for law enforcement which is lawsuits, according to Biascoti. He predicted that Alabama law enforcement will see lawsuits if it continues to respond to these calls without the training that’s available.
Sheriffs say that as more individuals in mental crisis are being arrested, deputies are trained to focus on safety, for the public, and for officers. They are not trained in mental health treatment.
The families of the mentally ill may have questions about the officers handling the situation. The Boarts, in particular, have a big question as this: Did officers have the training to recognize mental illness and treat their daughter as a patient, rather than a criminal?
“What I don’t understand is with them knowing her mental condition and knowing we were right there, she wasn’t no harm to anyone but herself,” Melissa Boarts’ mother said.
Experts say that without proper training, police officers are more likely to use tactics that can escalate aggression in a person suffering from severe mental illness increasing the likelihood of injury or death. However , these same experts are making these assumptions from behind their pearly gates and not on the road learning first hand what the officers sees.