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ACLU Calls For Federal Investigation Into SDPD's Handling Of Mentally Ill

An officer stands at the scene where a man was shot in the Midway District, April 30, 2015.
An officer stands at the scene where a man was shot in the Midway District, April 30, 2015.
ACLU Calls For Federal Investigation Into SDPD's Handling Of Mentally Ill
ACLU Calls For Federal Investigation Into SDPD's Handling Of Mentally Ill GUESTS: David Loy, legal director, ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties Theresa Bish, former chair, San Diego County Mental Health Advisory Board

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A call for a federal investigation into San Diego police use of force against the mentally ill. Hip-hop meets classical and the unique sound of Black Violin . This is trend eight Black Violin our top story in midday edition of the American separately. Is asking the Department of Justice to investigate the use of excessive force by the San Diego police against the mentally ill. The letter cites multiple incidents and asked the federal agency to find out if this constitutes a pattern I the STB deep in their handling of mental health crisis. David welcome. Theresa [Indiscernible] is a former San Diego mental health board member. Her brother suffered with severe mental illness. To reset welcome to the program. The letter written to the department -- the incident that really provoke the letter was the shooting of [Indiscernible] last year. The killing of Mr. [Indiscernible] crystallize this issue. You have an officer who is responding to a call and [Indiscernible] jumps out of his car and within five or 10 seconds has killed. If all you have is a hammer everything looks like a hammer. If all you have is a gun everything looks like a target. If the officer was trained on conflict de-escalation in crisis and intervention, he certainly do not use those techniques to make sure that everyone including Mr. Nehad . Your Midas about that case. [Indiscernible] was suffering from mental illness? He had been diagnosed with PTSD and other concerns. The officer was responding to a call involving Mr. trend 830 patient Nehad. There is a lawsuit pending over that case. The important issue is to look at that in context of the history. We have officers either not properly trained or not employed their training. So they end up killing people with mental illness. The reason I suppose that I asked about this particular case is that while it is indeed tragic, why is it troubling enough to ask for a federal investigation? By itself it is a horrifying example of how an officer quickly escalated to legal -- lethal force. He did not use training to de-escalate and control the situation to make sure everyone walked away from safe. It is the latest series of killings were attempted killings by officers. Involving people with mental illness. That are only the ones that we know of. Part of the problem here is that law enforcement in San Diego and elsewhere in California is intensely secretive. They will not release their police reports. They will not release their incident reports. The public has no way to know what happened except for the highly sanitized and very biased reports by district attorneys. Refusing to prosecute the officers. They do not read like impartial investigations. The reef -- read. How many other cases are included in the letter to the Department of Justice? There are for others. There are five killings in five years. You have been on both sides of this issue with police being called on incidents involving your brother, and trying to shape public policy on the mentally ill. What you make of the police shooting Mr. Nehad ? Some of the liability and responsibility and accountability rests with County mental health services. He had been known to the County. He spiraled into crisis. Unfortunately he ended up more off treatment than on over the years. This was somebody who would have benefited from Laura's law. The County is implementing this this year in April. Laura's law is a civil law that states if somebody is known to the County for hop -- hospitalizations and/or arrest they start to go off of their treatment plan we can be proactive and position the County to get them back into voluntary outpatient treatment programs that are funded. Ironically the ACLU has been opposed to Laura's law in this County. Which I think would've helped in the case with Mr. Nehad? I do. The family was extremely supportive. They do but they could under the given criteria that we have operating on historically. Which is having to wait until that individual qualifies for a involuntary hold. It was unfortunate about the Nehad. I do want to share with the ACLU is bringing up is not consistent with my experience both on the mental health board, and as a family member. Have you seen police react with force to quickly against your brother, or has that come up in your policy issue dealings when you are trying to figure out how a law enforcement should deal with mentally ill in San Diego? When I was chair of the mental health board in 2010 and 2011 I seated the first critical defense committee and years. We studied shootings. Every single meeting which were held each month, it was that each of those meetings, he was an active participant. It willing participant to share ideas for increase in training, which goes against what the letter states from the ACLU, that they are not responsive and willing to increase their trainings. I think there needs to be recognition today that the County has open their purse strings and there is interest to increase training. I recently addressed 50 sheriffs on behalf of the [Indiscernible] Academy sharing insight into the mentally ill. In my own experience as a family member. I think we need to be fair. I have been on your program before. I have been outspoken, but there have been strides that have been made over the years to integrate training for law enforcement. To give them insight into the mentally ill. That way they can better address what they run into out in the street. Let me read something. Our training strategy focus is on the escalating situations deploying the appropriate resources. San Diego police officers responded to over 18,000 mental health calls for service last year alone. This is a 100% increase in the last seven years. David, isn't the reef police response part of a bigger problem and how to treat the mentally ill? If indeed we do have this ballooning need for treatment for mentally ill people? There is definitely a larger issue involved in the fact that as a society, I believe, we have improperly delegated the treatment of mental illness to the police and the criminal justice system. I sympathize with law enforcement in general. We have systematically stripped funding from community mental health care. We have essentially push the mental health issues into the criminal justice system. I think we should be treating mental illness through the health care system. We should be funding that system and providing appropriate resources. Police officers have a gun and a badge. They have the power to kill people. We have too many people dying in these incidents on the street. We have had five in five years, and possibly more. I certainly appreciate that the department has engaged in some training. That training to not work or take effect was not use by the officer who killed Mr. Nehad. It is a system of a pattern where you have an officer who jumps out of a car, and within 5 to 10 seconds he has killed a man. That is symptomatic of a problem. The problem is that they did department -- on talking about city police, they did to put their cards on the table. Open their doors and give us the training and show us with the training is. Provide the incident report. There is no way for us to have trust in law enforcement if they will not open their books and put their cards on the table. We get the statements from the police chief all of the time. Show us your training manuals. Show us your incident reports. Legally you can keep them a secret, but you do not have to. Open your books and give the public trust. What about the idea of doing what David is saying? If this training is going on and if the police are sympathetic to the idea of trying to deal with the issue of mental health in our community why not be more transparent about it? I am not suggesting that they should not be. I am trying to be fair in my evaluation of the ACLU request for an investigation. There is too much of an accountability on behalf of the police to be the end-all and be-all for serving the mentally ill. We have and oversight body that I had served on. I looked at critical incidents. The behavioral board they could be performing oversight as well. I am not sure why it is only -- the only target seems to be law enforcement. When they are the ones who are caring the weight here. I was part of the legal women voters in the 90s interviewing law enforcement, and the forensic services in jails. FlashForward two 2007 when I was appointed to the mental health board nothing had changed. It'd only increase. The reason our letter focuses on law enforcement is because police officers have the guns and they are killing people. Nobody can get treatment if they are dead. We can debate about the most effective way to get people into treatment. The important thing is no one gets treatment if they are dead. This is why this letter focuses on San Diego Police Department killing people to have a full and fair investigation to find out what is going on. I have no more time. When do you expect to hear back from the DOJ. We think this is an urgent issue. Thank you both very much.

The American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego & Imperials Counties, along with 26 San Diego attorneys and civil-rights groups, sent a letter to the U.S. Attorney General's Office urging it to review the San Diego Police Department's handling of incidents involving the mentally ill.

The letter is in response to the fatal shooting in April of Fridoon Rawshan Nehad, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis decided not to file charges against Officer Neal Browder, who shot Nehad shortly after arriving at the call in the Midway District. Witnesses reported Nehad had a knife; Browder mistook a pen Nehad was twirling as the knife.

Dumanis said the shooting was justified because Browder believed his life was in danger. She could not be reached for comment Wednesday.


The ACLU letter draws on a number of other incidents it says show a pattern of improperly handling incidents involving the mentally ill and people in crisis.

"A series of incidents raises serious concerns that SDPD has a pattern or practice of violating the fundamental rights of people with mental illness or experiencing a mental health crisis," the letter says. "These encounters are marked by the questionable use of lethal force in incidents that officers may have unnecessarily escalated. The incidents suggest that the SDPD has made an insufficient effort to supply necessary training and resources for responding to matters involving the mentally ill."

In a statement, Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman said the number of mental health calls her department has received has skyrocketed and she welcomes the opportunity to work as a community on the problem.

“No police officer comes to work wanting to be involved in a shooting. Our training strategy focuses on de-escalating situations and deploying the appropriate resources to safely resolve an unstable situation. San Diego Police Officers responded to over 18,000 mental health calls for service last year alone. This is a 100% increase in the last seven years. Public safety is a shared responsibility. The rising mental health crisis facing society today demands the attention of more than just those families who are dealing with mental illness of a loved one. We welcome the opportunity to work together to assist those who are suffering from mental illness.”

On KPBS Midday Edition Thursday, Theresa Bish, former chair of the San Diego County Mental Health Advisory Board, said in her experience the Police Department has been responsive to calls for more training on handling the mentally ill.

Bish said "some of the liability rests with county Mental Health Services." She said Nehad was known to the county, but a lack of services and legal tools for his family meant Nehad was on and off treatment. She said Laura's Law, which allows court-ordered outpatient treatment and will go into effect in San Diego later this year, might have prevented the incident and subsequent shooting.


David Loy, legal director for the ACLU in San Diego, defended the organization's call for scrutiny of the Police Department.

"There is definitely a larger issue involved, in the fact that as a society we have improperly delegated the treatment of mental illness to the police and criminal justice system," Loy said on Midday Edition. "But putting that to one side, police officers have a gun and a badge and they have the power to kill someone. And too many people are dying.

"That training didn't take effect when the officer killed Mr. Nehad," Loy continued. "It's a symptom of a pattern, where an officer jumps out of a car and within five or 10 seconds has killed a man."

A video of the April shooting released in December after KPBS and several other news organizations filed a lawsuit for the footage shows Browder did not use less lethal force before pulling his gun on Nehad, who appeared to slow when he reached Browder's cruiser. The cruiser didn't have its flashing lights on. The footage doesn't include audio, but three witnesses told investigators they heard Browder tell Nehad to stop.

In a news release sent by the ACLU, Nehad's sister Benny Roshan said she is heartened by the call for an investigation.

“Too many families like ours have had loved ones violently wrenched from them," she said. "The volume suggests that the SDPD has declined to provide necessary training and resources to officers who respond to calls involving the mentally ill to achieve more humane outcomes.”

Nehad's family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city and the officer.

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