Friday, August 8, 2008
(Photo: William and Julie Hillstead, whose son committed suicide after a police stand off - with Kevin Keenan, Executive Director of the ACLU. Alison St John/KPBS )
The American Civil Liberties Union is threatening to sue the city of Oceanside. The ACLU wants the city to release more information about an incident in which a young man committed suicide last December during a police stand off. KPBS reporter Alison St John has more.
Twenty-year-old Grant Sattaur was distraught over a break up with his girlfriend. He bought a gun and holed up alone in his home. Police arrived and negotiated with him for two hour, but he finally shot himself.
A tape shows the police negotiator tried to reason with Sattaur to come out of the house and when that failed, challenged him
Recording: Are you going to be a coward and stay in the house or you are going to be a man and come outside and take care of your problems , are you a coward? Mmhmm> what good does that do? You don’t sound like a coward .. it’s going to do me absolutely no good. So listen to me put the gun down and come outside.
Sattaur’s adoptive parents, William and Julie Hillstead, say the Oceanside police mishandled the situation. They say the police training to deal with hostage situations and domestic violence doesn’t equip them to handle suicidal situations.
Hillstead: Nothing will ever bring our son back and what we’re going through we don’t want to happen to anyone else yes, so we’ll do anything we cant to stop that. Something needs to change .
A licensed mental health professional from the Psychiatric Emergency Response Team was on scene but was not allowed to assist the police negotiator. Sergeant Kelan Poorman spoke for Oceanside police Chief Frank McCoy.
Poorman: He felt comfortable that our policies were up to current trends when up to dealing with crisis and hostage negotiations when dealing with suicidal subjects but he did want to add that there are still options of reviewing policies and if there needs to be changes we are willing to do that.
Poorman says if the parents submit a public information request for more details about the incident, the city attorney will review it.
ACLU executive director Kevin Keenan says the law shields municipalities from negligence law suits, so victims have very little recourse. He says the tape reveals the police mishandled the negotiation.
Keenan: When someone is suicidal what you’re supposed to do is create empathy and trust, not, “You’re being a coward”.. all the things that were said to Grant.
Keenan says the ACLU’s demands for more information aims to spur the city into action to change their policies and improve police training, so this situation will not happen again.
Alison St John, KPBS News.