The Perils Of Calling Police To Help With Mental Health Crisis | WBEZ
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Case Highlights Perils Of Calling Police To Help With Mental Health Crisis

A Cook County jury heard opening statements Tuesday in the civil case of a mother who called 911 for help transporting her son with schizophrenia to the hospital, but when Chicago Police arrived, one of the officers shot her son.

Lawyers for Pamela Anderson said police officer Christopher Ramey did not follow his training or proper procedures when he fatally shot James Anderson in September 2015. But a city of Chicago law department attorney representing the officer said that Ramey was making a split-second decision and was in fear for his life. The case illustrates an ongoing conversation in Chicago: how the city should handle mental health emergencies.

Anderson’s lawyers played tapes of her call to 911 in which Anderson told operators she needed help getting her son, who was having a mental health crisis, to the hospital. She told the operator that her son was cursing and had a box cutter in his pocket.

“But he is not going to use it,” Anderson said in the recording. “You don’t need to come here with no guns or nothing.”

Anderson’s lawyer, Antonio Romanucci, told jurors that when police arrived Anderson begged Ramey to put away his weapon. But after spending only 30 seconds in the house, he shot her son.

Romanucci argued this was against his training, which should have led Ramey to asses the situation, find opportunities to de-escalate and call a supervisor if needed. Romanucci said Ramey chose instead to do things “his way” and entered James Anderson’s room without explaining to him why he was there. Romanucci said three other officers were in the house at the time, but none of the other officers shot — though one did attempt to incapacitate Anderson using a taser.

Allison Romelfanger, an attorney for the officer, told jurors that Ramey believed he was arriving on the scene for a situation that would be a simple transportation to the hospital. But Romelfanger said that because the situation was uncertain and the officer had been warned that one person was armed, he lowered “the hood” on his holster, a step to make his gun more accessible without actually drawing it.

She said that Ramey needed to make contact with Anderson to assess if he was a danger to himself or others. When Ramey entered the room, she said he thought James Anderson had what appeared to be two knives, but ended up being box cutters. Anderson’s attorneys say Ramey is the only officer who remembers Anderson having two.

Romelfanger told jurors that Ramey was trapped near a wall and was roughly within arms length of Anderson, so he had no choice but to shoot. She said Ramey was in fear for his life and acted reasonably.

Lawyers promised that during the trial the jury would hear from both the officer and James Anderson’s mother.

Since the 2015 incident between Ramey and Anderson, Chicago police have expanded their training on mental illness and procedures on the use of force have changed. But when a person calls 911 for mental health help, it’s still common procedure to send police. Many advocates argue that police should not be sent to most mental health emergencies. Instead they say the city should send mental health professionals, with backup as needed.

A representative from Chicago’s police department has told WBEZ it is working to improve how it responds to mental health crises and police representatives have traveled to other cities and studied several models.

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