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Are police trained to deal with the mentally ill?

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Today marks the six-year anniversary of Mental Health Matters. To mark this day, I wish to remember a few people who died because instead of getting to a doctor, hospital or their medicine, they were treated to the TT Police Service’s intervention that left them dead.

How does it work? A parent or relative calls the police because their loved may be exhibiting violent behaviour for one of many reasons. He or she may have a knife, a broken bottle, a “two by four,” never a gun, but in their forcefulness, propelled by the power of whatever portends, they lunge at or make threatening gestures to a police officer and ends up dead. Shot. Multiple times. Not in the foot. Not by a rubber bullet.

Shot dead. Killed by the State.

Of course, the reason we request police intervention is because we believe that officers can somehow subdue a mentally ill person who is having an acute episode. For me, I say do not call the police, but I understand what it is to be at the mercy of someone acting violently and there are occasions where police officers have helped without death as the outcome.

Last Thursday, Police Service Social and Welfare general secretary acting ASP Anand Ramesar said “police training is inadequate for its members to deal with the mentally ill and that the police should not be the first responders to assist mentally ill people who have become violent.”

Ramesar’s comments were made after the latest police killing of a mentally ill man, Colin Roopchand, 26, at his home in La Romaine. The man who lived with bipolar disorder was acting violently and abusive towards his mother, and according to police, he attacked them.

In July 2017, the headline read ‘Cops kill man in knife attack.’

Damien Downey was killed by police after he attacked his 90-year-old grandmother with a knife at their Don Miguel Road, San Juan home. The newspaper reported that killing to be the 22nd man killed by police for that year.

Police reported that “Downey was brandishing a knife and terrorising his grandmother Mary Ettienne.”

Two officers responded and upon arrival they said they “were attacked by Downey” who was then shot. One of the officers was slashed on one of his hands.

The injured man and the officers were taken to the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex where Downey was pronounced dead on arrival.

Speaking with the T&T Guardian then, Downey’s uncle, Garth Ettienne, said he called the police after his nephew began acting erratic. He said Downey was never diagnosed as being mentally ill but had spent a week at the St Ann’s Psychiatric Hospital and that the medical “report was inconclusive.”

When asked about the police’s use of force, Ettienne was reported as saying: “It is what they know, it is what they have. I don’t think that it will change any time soon,” adding “there was need for better training of police officers to deal with personal attacks.”

Mental patient shot dead

That is how the police shooting of Daniel Paul was heralded in the newspapers on June 7, 2017.

Paul’s mother Rosalie Paul claimed that the man who lived with a mental illness was awaken from his bed by the police before he was fatally shot (outside, a while later) by officers of the Ste Madeline Police Station. Rosalie said she had explained to the officers that Paul had mental health issues but they disregarded her.

Rosalie was reported as saying, “Paul began exhibiting violent and strange behaviours after leaving school some five years ago and he was put on medication and being treated at the Psychiatric Clinic at the San Fernando General Hospital.”

Rosalie said Paul had taken the wrong medication and started to act up, hitting a neighbour’s car with a bottle but “by the time police came, he had come home, taken his correct tablet and went in his bed to sleep.

“They (police) didn’t want to hear nothing, they went on the bed and shaking him to get up and one of them hit him on his head with a flash-light … When I checked his bed after I realise he was so frighten, he pee the bed.”

Paul left his bed eventually and was reported to have “pelt the police and that is why they shot him.

“They could have shoot the child in his foot; they didn’t have to kill him,” Rosalie said.
To be continued


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