June 22, 2014

Handling the Mentally Ill With Deadly Force

A video depicts the shooting by police of an unarmed, handcuffed man in New Mexio. On March 8, 2013, P.O. Jose Flores, and a prison guard, were escorting 37 year-old Daniel Saenz from a city jail to a local hospital. Saenz, who was rear-cuffed, began struggling with the two men. Eventually, while Saenz was on the ground, Flores drew his handgun and fired one shot in Saenz. Moments later, Saenz died.

The video begins with footage of Saenz being escorted from his cell. Different cameras pick him up as he travels through the building. Finally, at about the 15:15 mark, he is dragged out of the building. Shirtless, and with his pants pulled partway down, Saenz visibly struggles with the two officers. He is most definitely a handful, and while he is cuffed and on the ground, he does have a decent range of movement.

At about the 18:55 mark, Flores stands up, steps back, pulls his weapon, and fires one shot. Saenz flops about a bit, but by 19:20, he is motionless.

The authorities called it an accident, saying that the prison guard bumped Flores, causing him to discharge his weapon. The bullet passed through Saenz's shoulder and into his heart, resulting in his death. There is no meaningful discussion about why Flores drew his gun in the first place. Was it to threaten Saenz into compliance? That seems unlikely, given that (a) Saenz does not appear to be responding to reason, and (b) in any event, Flores pulled the trigger scant seconds after he drew it.

A recent news story talks about how Saenz was apparently mentally ill and violent; that he had assaulted an officer earlier that day, and, according to a police union representative, had withstood 5 taser cycles earlier that day. Knowledge of these, and other events, was what prompted Flores to draw his weapon in the first place, the representative claims.

Be that as it may, there is no getting around the fact that a police officer drew his weapon and fired a shot into the torso of an unarmed, handcuffed man, and killed him. The episode points to the desperate need for better protocols for handling the mentally ill. Yes, Saenz was behaving violently and was a menace. But deadly force is a grossly disproportionate reaction under the circumstances. That the N.M. police force views it as nothing more than an accident says a lot about their policies and approach towards dealing with the mentally ill. 

No comments:

Post a Comment