Day in Washington Podcast #20 (Law Enforcement and Disability – The Bigger Picture of the “Wheelchair Dumping” Controversy)

Day in Washington- The Disability Policy Podcast explores and discusses various aspects of disability policy. Each episode will cover a specific issue within disability, and/or a disability-related news article. These 5-10 minute podcasts offer an easy to understand introduction to disability policy and resources for those interested in further study. You can find the text of each podcast in the comments.  If you have difficulty downloading the podcast, please right-click and save it to your computer for playback.

Episode Summary:

On February 12th a story was running across the AP wires about how Charlette Marshall-Jones, of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, tipped Brian Sterner out of his wheelchair and searched him on the floor. What happened was a terrible event.

Perhaps not so publicized yet just as heinous, if not more so is what happened to Bill Trask, a developmentally disabled man who, after his time in the local jail has been left so traumatized that he is no longer independent at all.

The same week, Jason Swift, a man with a mental health condition who was in crisis, was shot dead by law enforcement officers who responded with force rather than make attempts to de-escalate the situation and reassure the terrified man. His mother had called 911 for assistance in getting her son taken to a nearby psychiatric facility.

The lack of knowledge of disability and the callous disregard for people with disabilities is more than just a single event of “wheelchair dumping” and as a community we should be more than just outraged because of a single incident. We should be advocating for a broad solution to deal with what is a pervasive, and (in the case of Jason Swift and many other individuals with mental illness) potentially life-threatening problem.

Audio File:  Day in Washington Podcast #20 – (Law Enforcement and Disability – The Bigger Picture of the “Wheelchair Dumping” Controversy)

Show Notes

– Introduction, Date of Podcast

– The Case of Bill Sterner and the “Wheelchair Dumping”

– The Case of Bill Trask and the Disintegration of a Developmentally Disabled Man in Jail

– The Case of Jason Swift and Law Enforcement’s Inappropriate (yet common) Response to Individuals with Mental Illness

– Seeking the “Bigger Picture”

– Closing and Contact information

– Disclaimer

Resources

Bill Trask Story – “Investigators: Tapes Reveal Treatment of Jailed Disabled Man”  From Seattle King 5 (NBC).

Jason Swift Story – “They Didn’t Need to Kill Him”  From the Providence Journal.

Bill Sterner Story – “Police Suspended for Wheelchair Dumping”  From Associated Press on Google News

Washington State Bill S.B. 5473 – Requiring the criminal justice training commission to train officers on interacting with developmentally disabled and mentally ill persons.  – Never Funded

 Criminal Justice/Mental Health – Consensus Project 
The Criminal Justice/Mental Health Consensus Project, is a national effort to help local, state, and federal policymakers and criminal justice and mental health professionals improve the response to people with mental illnesses who come into contact with the criminal justice system.

Memphis Plan – In the late 1980s, the Memphis Police Department created its Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) concept. It involved a 40 hour training program for selected officers. The program was presented by a blend of professionals involved with the mentally ill community and police experts in verbalization, confrontational diffusing techniques, and subject control and restraint techniques. It has not eliminated all adverse consequences in the Memphis police encounters with emotionally disturbed persons, but the agency has significantly decreased this outcome and the Memphis Plan has been the model upon which many other law enforcement officers have based their own “mental illness” response and intervention programs.

4 comments for “Day in Washington Podcast #20 (Law Enforcement and Disability – The Bigger Picture of the “Wheelchair Dumping” Controversy)

  1. admin
    February 18, 2008 at 11:13 pm

    Day in Washington – Podcast #20 (February 18, 2008)

    INTRODUCTION

    Welcome to a Day in Washington. Day in Washington is your disability policy podcast covering legislative issues of interest to the disability community. We also spotlight specific bills and other related news articles. I’m your host, Day Al-Mohamed working to make sure you stay informed. This is Podcast #20 scheduled for Monday, February 18, 2008.

    On February 12th a story was running across the AP wires and various disability blogs about an incident where veteran deputy Charlette Marshall-Jones, of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, tipped Brian Sterner out of his wheelchair and searched him on the floor after he was brought in on a warrant after a traffic violation.

    What the video shows is not only a lack of understanding about disability but a callous and even dangerous disregard for individual difference. This isn’t just about the actions taken by Deputy Marshall-Jones, but also about the non-actions taken by the other three officers present. And brings up questions as to the training of law enforcement officers in how to accommodate people with disabilities.

    It makes one wonder what would have been the outcome had this event not been recorded or had not the press become involved. As it currently stands I have to ask, who reported the incident.

    What happened was a terrible event. I’ve seen the video posted on numerous disability sites and significant commentary from an outraged community and I would have to say…we aren’t outraged enough. Mr. Sterner was fortunate in that his assault was recorded and reported and the media took an interest. But that is not the case in the majority of incidents where there is an intersection between disability and law enforcement.

    Not so publicized yet just as heinous, if not more so is what happened to Bill Trask, a developmentally disabled man who, after his time in the local jail has been left so traumatized that he is no longer independent at all.

    “Before he went to jail, Trask had the mind of child, but the physical abilities of a 41 year old man. He participated year round in sports and competed in the Special Olympics and was gainfully employed as a dishwasher. With his increasing independence he began challenging his mother, with whom he lived. One night, he went to far and she was forced to call the police. Arrested on a misdemeanor assault charge he was put in the local jail. What then happened is painfully documented in hundreds of pages of jail records and hours of video tape. It shows a man mentally falling apart and the officers just standing by.

    Today Bill Trask is a different man. He is completely dependent on the care of others. To quote the article, “He spends his days in diapers, in a wheelchair.”

    As stated by Sue Elliot of the ARC of Washington, “To check a box when somebody is urinating on themselves and putting their food down the drain, and not drinking water and not intervening, makes me angry because that’s just something you’d do for anybody.”

    But obviously not something you would do for someone with a disability. Particularly, a mental disability be it a cognitive, intellectual or developmental disability or mental illness.

    The same week law enforcement officers shot and killed Jason Swift a 30 year old man with “emotional problems.” His mother Betty,called the police after her son began talking to himself. She said he had had what she described as a nonviolent “nervous breakdown” a few months earlier and she was calling 911 for help getting him to Butler Hospital, a private psychiatric facility in Providence.

    According to the police chief they received a call about an “emotionally disturbed individual with a knife” and that Swift was acting “erratic” and “threatening.” Yet, he goes on to say that when the officers were attempting to subdue Jason Swift inside the apartment there were not only the original officers but had called another patrolman for backup. He also mentions that some time during the encounter Swift took off his clothes. So unarmed, obviously mentally disturbed, with at least three officers present, and yet the officers found it necessary to fatally shoot Jason Swift.

    The Police Executive Research Forum and the Council of State Governments and several mental health associations published a report about how the police should deal with the mentally ill. According to that report, titled, “Criminal Justice/Mental Health Consensus Project,” officers “should approach and interact with people who may have mental illness with a calm, non-threatening manner, while also protecting the safety of all involved.”

    What ensued was police attempts to subdue a man who was terrified of them and when their efforts using physical restraint and pepper spray were not working, rather than work to de-escalate the situation, they shot him.

    All three examples show a glaring amount of ignorance and callous disregard for people with disabilities on the part of law enforcement. Considering all three of these articles are from the same week, I would not consider it presumptive to say that it is an ongoing and insidious problem.

    While I applaud what will probably be Mr. Sterner’s civil action for restitution through the court system for how he was treated. I am glad that he is able to advocate for his rights. But I would have to say that this is probably not the answer.

    These stories illustrate a dangerous, even life-threatening disregard requires a more substantive answer.

    Efforts are being made jointly by some law enforcement offices and mental health organizations to better train officers to interact with people with mental health conditions who may be in crisis, however implementation is sporadic and requires officers who are dedicated to the program’s success.

    Washington state passed legislation to provide mandatory training to law enforcement officers on the issue of disability, however that initiative was never funded.

    For individuals such as Bill Trask and Jason Swift, the stigma and discrimination towards individuals with any mental disability is significant and these, perhaps the most vulnerable members of the disability community may never see justice.

    CLOSING

    And that is it for this week’s edition of Day in Washington. For links to more information, please check the show notes. Please feel free to contact me at http://www.dayinwashington.com regarding comments or suggestions. I’d love to hear from you, but for now, this is your host, Day reminding you to stay well and stay informed.

    EPILOGUE

    Music for this podcast was provided by the podsafe music network @ podsafemusicnetwork.com. The music was composed and performed by 2012 and can be found at http://www.twentytwelverecords.com.

    Any opinions and perspectives expressed in this podcast should not be taken as the official stance of any group or organization affiliated with the host. In addition, none of the facts, data, or grammar have been checked for accuracy.

    Thank you for listening.

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