Chemical dependency professionals have long tussled with the conundrum of accurately assessing presenting symptoms. Dual-diagnoses address both substance abuse and underlying mental illness. At intake, it is difficult to discern what is going on.
The City of Portland and US DoJ seek approval of a plan to elevate police powers … in mental health assessment and delivery of care. In our testimony at a recent Federal Hearing on the matter, Consult Hardesty took the position that – among first responders – EMTs or firemen are more temperamentally suited for such. It seemed incongruous to further criminalize ‘those perceived to be in mental health crisis,’ when Findings declared them to be victims of illegal use of force.
Portland Police already target vulnerable populations. District Attorneys already pounce on those in crisis, to offer chem dep treatment in plea deals. We fear many vulnerable people are likely to find themselves (medically) detained without due process.
In the recent Federal hearing, Senior US Trial Attorney Jonas Geissler not only credited Consult Hardesty for proposing a model Civilian Compliance & Reform Authority, he allowed that the parties had drawn from it, in proposing their own Community Oversight Advisory Board. We now propose COAB be constituted to propose substantial remedy. While police are expected to receive five million dollars annually as a result of the Agreement, the City plans merely to provide sufficient resources for COAB to convene and shuffle papers. Better it had been designed to bring in talented pools of community resources to make studied recommendations it could expect a deficient police bureau to take seriously.
Proposed case study
In this contemporary, harrowing account, The Oregonian reports a Portland man demands drugs from hospital workers, while holding himself at gunpoint. Hospital workers disarm the man and secure him. Police arrive, he is taken into custody. Five months later, the man pleads to harassment and possession of a firearm in a public building. He is sentenced to six months in jail, three years of probation.
The man is also ordered to undergo drug abuse treatment.
Through our work to introduce a Police Plan to Address Racial Profiling, and inspire/review PPB’s Use-of-force Matrix, we know policy implementation travels a long road. Before changing actual practices, Police bureaus codify expectations and develop directives. In an enlightened age, they would also revamp training, to make new outcomes likely.
The above scenario – of a person experiencing a mental health crisis already secured in a facility – would help the community better understand how city authorities expect to handle the nexus of police roles in delivery of care. Would it always be a best-case scenario to retrieve a person in crisis from care providers, for booking?
We encourage the influence of mental health advocates in policy implementation. We contend a proposed Settlement Agreement is deficient if it fails to fully address victim needs. We’d want to know whether chemical dependency treatment produces better results when offered closely pursuant to a crisis moment … as opposed be being mandated five months later, likely as terms to maintain liberty following six months of incarceration.
We do expect improved police conduct, simply because Federal authorities will be looking over their shoulders during the term of the Agreement. We do not expect further police homicides in hospitals, as in Officer Jeffrey Bell’s 2001 shooting death of José Santos Victor Mejía Poot.
From Martin Gonzalez, Justice for Jose Mejía Poot Committee; and Dan Handelman, Portland Copwatch; 2011 Portland Mercury:
Mr. Mejia did not have a mental illness, but rather was suffering a seizure from epilepsy when he found himself 20 cents shy of bus fare two days earlier. Officers called to the bus dragged Mr. Mejia out and reportedly beat him. Once released from jail, Mr. Mejia, a Native American from the Yucatan peninsula who did not speak English nor much Spanish, confused and penniless, was misdiagnosed as having a mental illness and brought to Gateway center on March 30, 2001.
Two days later, a staff nurse called the police after Mr. Mejia got out of his room and allegedly threatened staff with a pencil. Officers responded, including the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) trained officer who knew how to de-escalate a situation. Mr. Mejia was returned to his room without incident. A few hours later, he got out again, the nurse called again, but the CIT officer was no longer on duty. The officers who responded confronted Mr. Mejia, who allegedly grabbed the aluminum push rod from a door, and they shot and killed him.
In real-world practice, then-Chief Mark Kroeker awarded medals to two of the officers involved in the shooting death. Community members were prevented from appealing a ‘no misconduct’ finding for the precursor beating … to the City’s ‘Citizen’ Review Committee … on a simple, administrative declaration by the Director of the City’s ‘Independent’ Police Review Division, City Auditor, and City Attorney.
The facility subsequently settled with the family and closed its doors. The City of Portland settled with the family for burial expenses and an agreement to train all officers on epilepsy for one hour.