People in mental health crisis need help

To the editor:

Daniel Prude died during an arrest on March 30.

He was in a mental health crisis (possibly drug-induced, but the cause is not the issue). He had been evaluated and released from an emergency room the previous day after a possible suicide attempt. Where was the 72-hour hold required if a patient is a danger to himself? Where was the five-day hold required after a failed suicide attempt? If he had been evaluated and treatment provided, we would not be in this situation today.

The officers responded to his crisis, restrained him, got him under control, then proceeded to apply the spit hood, knee to the neck, and pressure to his head until he went limp. The union representative for the Rochester Police Department had this to say in defense of his officers:

“To me, it looks like they were watching the training in front of them and doing step by step what the training says to do,” said Michael Mazzeo, president of the Locust Club. “If there’s a problem with that, let’s change it.”

They were following textbook procedure. This appears to be the truth. Police procedures apparently instruct officers to force a handcuffed offender, completely restrained and showing no threat, to the ground. They are then instructed to force the face of this already restrained person into the ground while pressure (often in the form of a knee) is applied to the back and neck until no more resistance is perceived by the officer.

There is a history of this procedure being true: Tony Timpa, Aug. 1, 2019; George Floyd, May 25, 2020; Jacob Bauer, August 2018; and Robert Ethan Sayler, Jan 12, 2013.

I have accompanied patients to appointments who are seeking treatment for mental health crisis and substance use disorders. I have watched the despair as the treatment is denied. I have had the emergency room provider even refuse to provide a consult with a psychiatrist or member of the mental health unit. When things finally deteriorate to the point the police are called, they risk imprisonment or death.

I support my police departments. I believe they have been dumped on with all the results of a system that refuses to care for those in need. As a family member who knows too well just how hard it is to receive that valuable diagnosis and treatment, I understand the frustration. As a society, we must treat willing patients. We must provide housing for patients while seeking treatment. We must learn to deescalate a crisis situation. And we must not find it acceptable to shove a person’s face into the ground because they are acting out in an irrational manner.

Sue Martin