New law in Virginia will tie the hands of law enforcement in mental health crises

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RICHMOND, VA – A new system called the Marcus Alert is now law in Richmond, Virginia. It will require teams of mental health experts and peer specialists to mobilize and assist officers responding to a crisis call.

The Marcus Alert was named after Marcus David Peters, a 24-year-old resident of Richmond, Virginia who died 3 years ago when he was shot and killed by a police officer.

His death was the reason for this push to implement change in how mental health crises are handled. At the time of the incident, Peters was naked and unarmed and according to his family, was in the midst of a mental health crisis.

In response to this tragedy, the Marcus Alert is aimed at de-escalating crises such as Peters. Social workers are trained in how to respond and to manage the situation.

Daryl Fraser, a social worker, who served on the mayor of Richmond’s Task Force for Re-imaging Public Safety, said:

“When we think about public safety, a lot of times we always often default to the police, right?” he said. “But we need to expand the definition of public safety…because people experience mental health crisis all the time and if we expand that to include mental health professionals, like what the bill is talking about, having peer support, we can address a lot of these issues”.

“When we think about public safety, a lot of times we always often default to the police, right?” -Daryl Fraser, Social Worker—–

The same day that this bill was passed and became law, police officers in Chesterfield County were faced with a similar challenging situation; an individual was threatening to commit suicide.

“We ask law enforcement to do things that are outside of their purview”, Fraser said.

“But we need to expand the definition of public safety… because people experience mental health crisis all the time and if we expand that to include mental health professionals, like what the bill is talking about, having peer support, we can address a lot of these issues”.-Daryl Fraser, Social Worker

Fraser also noted that a reason for collaborating with social works and providing intervention means having an awareness of the local culture.

“Being aware of the community that’s being served and the needs that the community, putting those needs first as opposed to criminalizing people for having mental health or substance abuse issues”, Fraser remarked.

“We ask law enforcement to do things that are outside of their purview.” -Daryl Fraser, Social Worker

An excerpt from the bill states:

Mental health awareness response and community understanding services (Marcus) alert system. 

Provides that the Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) and the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS) shall develop and establish a mental health awareness response and community understanding services (Marcus) alert system throughout the Commonwealth. 

…A “community care team” is defined in the bill as a team of mental health service providers, and may include registered peer recovery specialists and law-enforcement officers as a team, with the mental health service providers leading such team, to help stabilize individuals in crisis situations. 

…A “mental health awareness response and community understanding services (Marcus) alert system” or “Marcus alert system” is defined in the bill as a set of protocols to

(1) initiate a behavioral health response to a behavioral health crisis, including for individuals experiencing a behavioral health crisis secondary to mental illness, substance abuse, developmental disabilities, or any combination thereof;

(2) divert such individuals to the behavioral health or developmental services system whenever feasible; and

(3) facilitate a specialized response by law enforcement when diversion is not feasible.”

According to this legislation, the departments of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, and the Department of Criminal Justice Services would be required to institute protocols related to how law enforcement agencies should respond to calls involving mental health issues or distress or who have a developmental disability.

The challenge ahead will be to redefine the role of law enforcement in these situations and what limitations will be placed on them during these calls.

Here’s a prime example of the danger of one of these mental health calls, however:

PORTLAND, OR  A federal judge has thrown out the case of an Oregon State Trooper.

The trooper filed a lawsuit against a hospital that released a man the same day he was admitted under a mental health hold … who later went on to shoot the trooper.

Trooper Nic Cederberg was shot 12 times on Christmas Day in 2016 in an incident involving the released patient, James Tylka.

Cederberg, who was left with several disabilities from the shooting, and his wife, Haley Shelton, filed the $30 million lawsuit against Legacy Meridian Park Hospital, which released Tylka a few weeks prior to the shooting.

Cederberg and Shelton contend that the hospital should be civilly liable because they released Tylka after police had requested he be admitted under a mental health hold. 

The hospital did not grant the hold and released him the same day he was admitted.  Cederberg believes that if Tylka had been committed, as the police had requested, Tylka would have been in the hospital at the time of the shooting and the shooting would never have occurred.

The judge who heard the case decided that the hospital was not liable.  The judge stated it was not reasonable to determine that had the hospital maintained custody of Tylka, he would not have shot Cederberg. Tylka was shot and killed by police after he opened fire on them following a five-mile road pursuit.

Cederberg can appeal the judge’s decision, however, he has only three weeks in which to do so.

This blow to Cederberg comes a year after the same judge dismissed parts of the lawsuit naming Washington County’s 911 center and the Washington County Sheriff’s Office as defendants.

In 2016, Cederberg responded to an attempt to locate call for service to find Tylka, who had allegedly killed his wife in King City.  Cederberg’s lawsuit against the 911 center alleges that while the dispatch center relayed that information, they never mentioned that Tylka was considered armed and suicidal. 

Shortly before 11 p.m., Cederberg spotted the vehicle that Tylka was driving and attempted to stop it, which started a vehicle pursuit.  Tylka allegedly began driving down a dark rural road to a dead end.  The lawsuit claimed that Cederberg would never have made the decision to pursue had he known Tylka was armed and suicidal.

Tylka then allegedly rammed Cederberg’s patrol vehicle as he began shooting at the trooper.  Cederberg was allegedly shot by Tylka 12 times.  The last few rounds were fired at close range.  The Washington County District Attorney said:

“It appears that Tylka fired the last few rounds while standing directly over Trooper Cederberg.”

Tylka continued his gun battle with other members of law enforcement as they arrived to assist Cederberg.  Of the 21 shots that struck Tylka, it was a self-inflicted gunshot to his head that killed him.

Cederberg also sued a deputy sheriff for failing to effect an arrest on Tylka a month prior to the shootout.  Cederberg’s lawyer claimed Tylka’s wife, Katelynn Tylka, had reported a domestic violence incident involving her husband on Nov. 29, 2016.  The lawsuit claims that the deputy had probable cause and evidence to make the arrest but chose not to for an undisclosed reason.

Instead of being arrested, Tylka attempted to kill himself on Nov. 30 by overdosing on insulin and was transported to the Legacy Meridian Park Hospital where he was treated for the overdose.  The lawsuit claims that an officer requested the hospital place a mental health hold on him.

The lawsuit alleges the doctor:

“. . . called the King City Police Department to complain about Mr. Tylka being brought to the emergency room . . . and stated that the circumstances [regarding the suicide attempt] ‘sounded like a criminal matter.’ ”

However, instead of keeping Tylka in the hospital for a psychological evaluation, doctors released him from their care the same day.

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Atlanta officers fired without due process file lawsuit against chief and mayor for reinstatement

ATLANTA, GA  Once again, in the name of pandering, we have an example of police officers being denied the right to a fair and impartial trial, also known as due process.

Ivory Streeter and Mark Gardner, the two Atlanta Police Officers who were fired after using their tasers on two college students, are fighting back. They’re suing Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields and Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms to get their jobs back.

The lawsuit states:

“Petitioners have suffered irreparable injury to their personal and professional reputations as a result of their unlawful dismissal.”

The officers were effecting a traffic stop after a 9 p.m. curfew at Centennial Olympic Park Drive and Andrew Young International Boulevard. Spelman College student Taniyah Pilgrim, 20, and former Morehouse College student Messiah Young, 22, were near downtown Atlanta when they were told to stop their car.

One of the officers yelled several times for the driver, Young, to stop the car. Streeter allegedly smashed the driver’s side window and tased Young, and Gardner tased the passenger, who allegedly refused to get out of the car.

The vehicle was being signaled to stop because there was another officer standing in the road a short distance from them. The driver didn’t comply, so officers surrounded his vehicle.

Both occupants refused to comply when ordered out of the car. The driver reached toward his pockets.

Mayor Bottoms  condemned the officers for the incident before an investigation even started. In a press conference, she said:

“[The video was] deeply disturbing on many levels. There was clearly an excessive use of force.”

After reviewing the body cam footage, Bottoms and Shields ordered officers Streeter and Gardner to be fired.

The next day, Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard announced criminal charges against the two officers for aggravated assault, as well as four others who were reportedly on scene and involved. The possible charges for those officers have not yet been announced. They remain on desk duty.

In a memo to her officers, Shields said that she fired officers Streeter and Gardner because she “didn’t have an option,” but she never thought criminal charges would have been brought against any of the officers. She said it was a “political move” by Howard.

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