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What started as a simple transfer to a mental health facility ended in the patient’s death at the hands of Wake County sheriff’s deputies on Easter Sunday. As is standard procedure in any officer-involved shooting, the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation is looking into the incident. The SBI will deliver its report to the Wake County District Attorney’s office, where prosecutors will determine if charges against any of the deputies would be appropriate.

The shooting could very well lead to a change in policy for the sheriff’s office. Currently, it is up to the deputy to decide if a psychiatric patient should be handcuffed or should sit in the back seat during a transfer. Among other things, the deputy considers whether such restraints will cause stress for the patient. The policy was mentioned in passing, with no discussion of how deputies are trained to evaluate the situations or what kind of guidance, if any, they receive from the mental health facility.

On Sunday, the 35-year-old Durham man was sitting in the front seat and was not in handcuffs. According to the police report, a few minutes into the drive from Raleigh to the Winston-Salem facility, the patient attempted to overpower the deputy. The deputy was able to pull the car over, and both men got out of the vehicle. They struggled, the deputy slipped and fell and the patient took off in the cruiser.

The patient and the car were soon located, and deputies gave chase. The patient crashed the car and took off on foot. Deputies caught up with him, a struggle ensued, and shots were fired. The patient died at the scene. The sheriff’s office has not said how many shots were fired, nor would anyone confirm how many officers were involved in the shooting.

Law enforcement has a sketchy record at best of dealing effectively and humanely with people with mental illness. The reports did not include any information about why the deputies were involved or how the patient came to be at the Wake County Crisis Assessment Center. The SBI’s report could take months to complete, and perhaps it should: If we are to understand what happened, how the situation got out of hand and how to make sure that no vulnerable detainee suffers a similar fate.

Source: The Herald-Sun, “Psychiatric patient from Durham shot dead after Raleigh chase,” Keith Upchurch, April 1, 2013

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