Fearing that their child will become a victim of violence or self-harm is realistic. We’ve cited before that a person who lives with mental illness is statistically more like to harm themself than others. A parent once told us that when their daughter was unwell, she’d wander out into the night, wanting to help people. A young woman, incoherent, wandering into the park in the middle of the night is at risk.
Unfortunately, victimization of people experiencing psychosis is often, and documented, at the hands of police officers who are not adequately trained to de-escalate situations involving a person experiencing delusional thinking. Over the years, we have posted a few blogs on this very subject including these two:
On March 23rd, Daniel Prude was experiencing delusional thinking. Mr. Prude showed up at his brother, Joe’s home in Rochester, New York and was checked into a hospital but soon released–a scenario we have also heard retold by parents all too often (and discussed in this post from 2016)
The Prude brothers returned to Joe’s home and enjoyed a few hours together. But Daniel left the house and disappeared into the night. Joe searched for Daniel but couldn’t find him. Knowing that Daniel was not thinking rationally, he called the police for help.
In the body camera video of his arrest, Mr. Prude is naked, face down on the pavement, light snow is falling and there are at least five officers including the camera-wearer. Prude is ranting, but not violent. He is obviously delusional, speaking but not making sense. Prude speaks crudely and also praises god. He is cooperative when he is cuffed. At some point, an officer notes that he’s been out in the cold, naked, for at least 30 minutes. No one makes any gesture to put something around him to keep him warm. The officers stand around, watching him from a distance, ostensibly, awaiting an ambulance. When he tries to sit up, an officer tells him to stay down. At some point, an officer asks Prude if he has HIV. Officers are heard laughing at him. Prude starts to spit, not in the direction of anyone. An officer puts a “spit” hood over his head, which changes Mr. Prude’s affect and he becomes visibly and audibly more agitated. Only one officer is wearing a mask.
After the hood is put on him, he becomes agitated and he is pushed to the ground. It is during this time when his oxygen is cut off, causing his pulse to stop. An EMT revives him, but he ends up in the hospital, on life support. An autopsy report confirms he suffered asphyxiation during the arrest and was brain dead by the time he arrived at the hospital.
Mr. Prude was delusional, but he was not acting violently toward any of the officers. He can be heard saying, “Give me your gun. I’m going to kill yall” and praising god. With four officers, his hands cuffed and naked on the ground, the scene was contained until he started spitting. Even so, he wasn’t spitting at anyone.
To say that there is no other way but to use force to handle situations like this is factually incorrect. Elin and I both live in communities where police officers are trained to de-escalate situations involving individuals experiencing delusional thinking. We’ve witnessed officers handle a delusional person with calm and patience. In fact, in my town, there is an officer dedicated to helping with the nearly 90 percent police calls that are strictly mental health-related altercations that are resolved through de-escalation tactics.
Parents who have an adult child experiencing psychosis often need help to make sure their child is safe. In many cases, a psychotic person runs away because they are afraid. Their brain is churning strange and scary thoughts. Tessa often fears that her son, Riley, will encounter an officer who is untrained in de-escalation. Once, in an adjacent town, a friend of Riley’s was psychotic and killed by an officer. A slight young man, he was not carrying a weapon.
Joe Prude is quoted as saying, “I called the police for help but that was the wrong thing to do.”
For years, we’ve been telling parents that if they need to call the police for help with their loved one, request an officer who is Crisis Intervention Trained—A CIT officer. This designation can save a life. If your local law enforcement doesn’t have crisis trained officers, lobby your civic leaders to insist on it in the next budget review. It can save a life.
We’re not being political. We want to lobby for what we know can save lives. Mental illness doesn’t care about political affiliation. People experiencing psychosis can be helped and parents want them treated with dignity.
For a full accounting of Mr. Prude’s case, including audio: