Monday, December 19, 2011

Death in Lagrange


     Last week, a tragic shootout occurred in this small, rural township, which left a man dead, and a sheriff deputy wounded. In its wake, there appears to be many unanswered questions; specifically, how could an officer checking on the welfare of a man in the midst of a possible mental health crisis, have it end so tragically? Hopefully, the answers will be forthcoming soon!
     Though I am first, and foremost an advocate for those suffering with mental illness, I also have strong ties to the police; who I refer to as the new and best mental health workers! I am the first one to defend them after they have violent interactions with individuals in crisis, and rarely do I find fault with their work. However, I am reserving judgment in this case until more facts become available. The reasons for these reservations will soon become clear.
     This incident began when the mother of the person in question, Travis Stidham, called the Lorain County Sheriff’s department, and asked them to check in on him because he was acting strangely. Through newspaper accounts, it appears that the officers did attempt to make contact with this man, but he did not respond. They did see him through his windows moving around in his home, but apparently, he had barricaded himself in that house.  
    It appears, at this time that the deputies set up a perimeter around his house, and tried once again, to make contact with him. At some point, Stidham did exit the house, and the officers at the scene put a spotlight on him. According to an eyewitness, he then began shooting at the deputies who returned fire. At first report, it was an “officer down” situation, and he was pursued as if he did, in fact, shoot the officer.  A short time later, with a police helicopter hovering overhead, the individual committed suicide.
     Over the course of the next several days, it was determined that the officer wounded, Deputy Charles Crausaz, was actually wounded by friendly fire, not by Stidham. That does NOT diminish the situation in any way. In the course of a gunfight, things like that happen, and neither officer should be overly scrutinized for it. However, more precautions and training may be called for to avoid a repeat. The officer, who fired the errant shot, should again, not face undue criticism as this was a tense situation, and it occurred at night. We should all be grateful that the officer will recover.
     It is here that the situation becomes murky. Tom Skoch, the editor of the Lorain Morning Journal said it best in his “Our View” column this past Sunday. He said, “The facts known publicly so far do not indicate that Stidham was presenting a threat to anyone outside of his home.”
     The law on when an individual can be committed for treatment is clear, and it says that the individual had to be sure danger to themselves or others. It is evident that he was acting strange, but that did not make him a threat. Yes, he also owned a gun, but again, that is not illegal. Though there is no conclusive proof that this man had psychiatric issues, there is ample evidence to suggest it was part of the equation. Namely, his mother telling the dispatcher that her son was off his medication, a claim, echoed by his neighbors.  
     A large question looms, and that is, were the first officers on the scene to make contact trained in Crisis intervention (CIT)?
      This program, developed in Memphis, Tennessee in the late 1980’s, has been designed to train officers to deal with people in crisis; a plausible scenario with Travis Stidham. It was implemented to avoid violent confrontations, and the empirical evidence of its success is overwhelming. I have been involved with this training program for over six years now, and it has gained widespread acceptance, though it was not available in Lorain County till about 2001.
     The methodology in CIT is to make people aware that a mental health crisis is not a criminal offence; it is a “Medical Emergency”, and should be treated as such. In essence, during most CIT calls, the officers should also have an ambulance standing by, in the event that they realize the need to have the patient admitted for treatment.
     As of this time, it does not appear that this protocol was followed. It is as if this was being treated as a criminal case, almost right from the very beginning. With this, they may have lost the ability to de-escalate a situation before it became a firefight. The sheriff’s department may have a compelling reason for that, and hopefully, they will provide a credible explanation.
     Keeping in line with this, could the spotlight being shined on Stidhamn have been misconstrued by him as some form of aggression? If he was delusional, could he have interpreted this to be a gunshot? This question will be difficult to answer, even though the police has an “eyewitness” to the event; that type of evidence is routinely dismissed by investigators as somewhat unreliable.
     I must concede that, if in fact, Stidham, did have a mental health issue; he has to share some responsibility. As one who has dealt with mental illness it is not the fault of the person that they got sick, but, it becomes their responsibility to get treatment, stay in it, and get better!
     The Elyria police are going to be the ones that are handling the investigation, and I do have a high level of confidence in them. That was not always the case, but they have made many positive changes in their department, so now I believe we will see an accurate accounting as to what happened. Hopefully, the sheriff’s department will take any criticism as constructive, and make the necessary changes. Most importantly, in the future, what steps can the department do to avoid a repeat of this type of tragedy?
     I must add one more thing. I find it odd that the sheriff’s department is being lauded for being upfront about this friendly fire incident, and the resulting tragedy. I will not join the chorus of accolades for those declarations. Why praise someone for simply telling the truth?
     I look forward to questions and comments and will respond to all.
                                                                     

29 comments:

  1. When the deputies, Travis Stidham was no longer presenting a threat to anyone INside his home, either ... because he had already shot and killed his cat and his dog (as well as his television set). His mother called with quite a bit more than simply that her son was "acting strangely"; and while owning a gun is not illegal, I believe killing one's pets with it probably is.

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  2. First off thank you for posting. As of this time, no evidence that he killed his dog and cat can be found, as no remains have as yet been recovered. I have not said that the sheriffs have done anything wrong, I am just asking questions at this time.

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  3. I understand you're not blaming the deputies ... but I differ with you and Mr. Skoch saying there was "no evidence" Stidham posed a threat. The same "Our View" said Stidham's mother "had called authorities and reported that her son was inside his home and had apparently shot his dog, cat and television." THAT's what led deputies to consider this already a crisis situation ... they weren't going simply to "check in on him."

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  4. His mother NEVER said he was off his meds. She indicated she had no knowledge of him being on any meds. No animals have been found ... you are correct. I would be very interested in knowing if there were any animal dishes or maybe his father could say if he truly did have a cat and dog. The information so far provided is not clear on the animal part. Also it's not against the law to shoot your television. I like your blog and the courage you displayed in writing it. God be with everyone involved in this horrible situation. His poor mother will always regret making that phone call.

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  5. His mother was calling from another state, "Anonymous". She had NO clue as to whether or not the cat or dog were shot. I knew Travis in high school, and he was a quiet and nonviolent person. He was definitely NOT the type who would just open fire. Suffering from depression myself, I know how crippling mental illness can be. My personal belief is that the police could have and should have handled this situation a lot differently than they did.

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  6. Thank you all for your comments, especially the fact that they are all professional and no personal attacks. I am going to try and answer all the comments collectively.
    Antonymous said that this as more than just checking up on him. The first step in Crisis Intervention is to check on the wellbeing of the individual in question, and that was done. Yes, his mother did call and make some troubling allegations that NEEDED to be checked out. None of that is in question, just what occurred after. When did the people with guns and the armor piercing bullets arrive? Once again, was that an overly aggressive response?
    It has been reported in more than one media outlet that his mother mentioned being off his meds, but I do not know what the nature of his medication, and only the toxicology will recognize what type. It is strictly conjecturing on my part, but with the neighbors comments, it is likely psychotropic drugs will be involved.
    To Jennifer, thank you for the comments’, and for sharing your battle with depression. It is a savage illness and also totally misunderstood by society at large. I have suffered from bipolar disorder most of my adult life, and it is a constant challenge to stay healthy. I also keep hearing that this man has always been nonviolent, and that makes this intervention even more puzzling. They had some background on him, and nothing indicated someone who would be homicidal.
    I hope all of you will become followers of my blog by clicking on the top of the page. I will be addressing this case in future postings as the information becomes available.

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  7. George, I too will not presume to speculate on the nature of his meds, if any. I think it bears mentioning, though, that staying on meds is not as easy as it sounds. As a fellow sufferer, I can attest that many of these drugs are not cheap, even in the generic form (Lamictal comes to mind, for one).

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  8. It has been reported that his mother said he was "off his meds" I listened to the tape of his mother calling. She does NOT say that. Several media outlets also reported he shot his cat and dog and we have no evidence of that either. Just putting it out there.
    This was a tragedy for EVERYONE.

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  9. This was reported in several media outlets, and his neighbors said the same thing. Time will tell on the medication issue.
    I have a daily battle to stay in treatment, and it is a struggle, but it is my responsibility.
    I am going to do so blogs on the medical community, and their ignorance of these disorders. I believe that you will find them of interest.

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  10. There are deputies laid off and not enough manpower to handle basic responsibilities. Two or three guys and a supervisor covering the whole county. Two days prior to this incident they successfully resolved a similar armed confrontation in Wellington. Same supervisor by the way.
    Due to lack of funding I'm sure there are limited Swat call outs and the deputies were doing the best they could with the information they had. They don't have sufficient funds to staff the road, where do you propose they get the money to provide the training your program provides.
    How much do you earn for your involvement in this training you promote. Easy to sit back on your butt & criticize when you aren't the one getting shot at. There were some screw-ups but having been in similar situations myself I absolutely understand... something you will never do.

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  11. The guy came out of his home, armed, pointed his weapon at police & fired. Those are the facts.. Officers know from training to never assume anything on an unstable person call. The Sheriff has a couple of hostage negotiators and they are very good. Officer Jeff Shelton, Wellington PD talked a man armed with a shotgun & explosives into surrendering two days earlier in Wellington. I am as sympathetic as anyone to the difficulties of mental illness, for reasons that don't need explaining here . Your innuendo about how the incident was handled serves little purpose other than to attract attention to your blog..

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  12. I will respond to your comments, though I am not quite sure what you are saying.
    First off, many of my training programs are done free of charge!!! Except, occasionally, there are times that I do require a fee for some programs. I have done work at different police academy's working with cadets, and with that they gain insight in dealing with people that are in crisis. My fee for those talks covers the gas in my car. In fact, I have given over 450 talks throughout northeast Ohio, with over 90% of them as a volunteer. So your assumption that I am enriching myself is blatantly false.
    I once offered this sheriff a free training program, but he was too busy trying to be a celebrity chef, to do anything but make sarcastic comments to me. Perhaps that shoots down your opinion about where they could get the money needed. Plus CIT programs are offered free of charge to ALL police departments throughout the state of Ohio. The goal is to have the officer go home to his family safely, and for the afflicted person to enter into a treatment facility.
    As far as sitting back on my butt; I have a job, a business, I write, and I lecture on mental health issues, so that eliminates that comment. A majority of my talks are at local high schools, which are designed to promote awareness to the silent epidemic of teen suicides. Once again, about the only thing I receive is a free lunch from the teachers.
    In the future I welcome comments from you, but please do not assume you know anything about me, because it is obvious you do not. Please feel free to become a follower of my blog, and you can read more about this case as information becomes available.

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  13. First, what you don't know, or fail to consider is the cost to have 30 to 50 deputies sitting in a classroom for two or three hours when they don't even have the funds to staff the road. Nothing is free.
    Second Sheriff Stammitti is as good a sheriff as this county has ever had. He has done, and continues to do, an outstanding job. Your comments about him playing celebrity chef are indicative of you feelings toward him.
    And finally, you may be a busy man but I doubt (& there is the slightest possibility I may be wrong) that you have ever been in the position that those deputies were put in. With that in mind it's easy to sit back & criticize.
    If you are gonna write about this topic then tell the whole story. Write about how well the barricaded suspect incident at the trailer park in Wellington, two days prior, went, with the same Sergeant supervising both incidents. That guy was talked into surrendering the shotgun & the explosives that he was going to use. Nobody shot at him because he didn't shoot at anyone.
    Won't be following your blog. Don't like your style. I chose to get my information on this incident, on any incident for that matter, from a source that is a little less one sided, with no axe to grind against a celebrity chef, and no reputation to enhance.

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  14. Thank you for the post. I am not quite sure what you mean by turned down; I offered my services to many police departments, some other in Lorain County. Some have used me others have not. You have an officer shot by friendly fire, you have a man who had never been violent dead, these types of situations beg for some to investigate and scrutinize. By the way, my name is George, not ace.

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  15. Again thank you for your post. I am well aware of how much it cost to have people in training programs. But, if this case gets litigated, it could cost significantly more and that does not include the fact that an officer was shot, and a man is now dead.
    You are saying that this man came out of his house and pointed his gun at the officers? I am sorry, but that has not been in anything I have read. He came out of the house, the spotlight was pointed at him, and it was at this time the shooting started. I have seen no concrete evidence to the contrary.
    I have made no innuendos about this case. I have just asked questions that need to be answered. This blog did not make any reference to any other case; we are discussing the one in LaGrange.
    Thank you once again for your posting.

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  16. I have published every comment made about my blog. My purpose was to question what occurred and to make sure an advocate that nothing like this happens again. I have never attacked anyone on here, nor will I. However, the comments that I am attacking the officers is the furthest from the truth. I have always been and always been active in working to improve the safety for police officers, and that was always one of my chief motivations. If you need proof, you need only look up my previous writings.

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  17. In the words of Deputy Crausaz, “It wasn’t Travis Stidham; it was probably a mental disease out there shooting at me...”

    But it was someone with a gun, shooting at peace officers. You can Monday morning quarterback all you like, but you weren't there and you don't know how you would have responded. Too often we hear of peace officers losing their lives because they didn't take the proper precautions or they didn't consider the subject dangerous enough.

    Mr Stidham had a gun, fired on officers, ran from them and eventually took his own life.

    Like many others, I have sympathy for the victim and his family, but I also have respect for those men in uniform that rolled up on that scene.

    Personally, I think you're making too much of the situation.

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  18. Thank you for the posting and I will respond. I did read the officers comments, and they were very professional, and hit the nail on the head. If he was ill and as my article says, I believe he was; that was his illness responding.
    You are correct many officers have lost their lives in violent confrontations. However, with the emergence of new and innovative training such as CIT, those numbers have dropped dramatically. Along with it, lawsuits, police brutality complaints, and this has opened the door to my calling police officers the new and best mental health workers. In the past, and in the future, I have heaped praise on local law enforcement personnel, which is why I volunteer a great deal of my spare time in bringing more awareness to this issue.
    In this case, a man is dead, a police officer was wounded; if that is not a big deal, I am not sure what is. The purpose of the questions, and yes, just questions not criticism, is to understand what happened to avoid another tragic situation.
    Thank you once again for your posting.

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  19. Ohio Govenor has provided FREE crisis intervention training for years to police departments statewide. Had officers been trained most likely this would have ended much differently - we can only speculate . Clearly the police response was inappropriate and Clearly much training is needed. Has anyone found the dead animals?

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  20. Thank you for your posting, and your well thought out comments.
    I have a unique perspective on this case. When I was suffering the symptoms of bipolar disorder, I did encounter some emotional police brutality, and it left scars. However, rather than being part of the problem, I dedicated my life to make changes, and the police has responded admirably. I was also a city councilman, and during that time, I chaired the safety forces committee. Now as an advocate, I work closely with police departments and again, the results have been outstanding.
    In this article, for some unknown reason, some people believe that I have attacked the department, which I obviously have not. As an advocate, I am questioning what happened. A man is dead, and it cannot just be written off, as it appears to some people who have posted in this blog, he was a non-person. Contrary to that thinking, he had value, as he was a human being.
    I previously mentioned that CIT is free to the police departments, and that was met with some irrational comments by an individual and it is still posted. The reality is that police training is always evolving, and all officers must be kept up to date on the new techniques.
    I do not know yet if the police did do anything wrong in this case, because all the facts are not known. The issue of the dog and cat is a complex one. There is no doubt that he told his mother that he killed them. However, if they do not find evidence that they existed, it could be indicating even more delusional thinking. Unless, evidence shows that the police did something improper, I will stand their actions.
    I must add that the failures in the mental health system are widespread and often go unchallenged. The police rarely make mistakes in these situations. In fact, the mistakes are almost exclusively in the medical field, and in the court system. So before people ON BOTH SIDES, pass judgment, let the evidence determine just what happened.
    Thank you again for your posting and I hope you will become a follower of this blog.

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  21. YOU said ..."There is no doubt that he told his mother that he killed them."
    I beg to differ... I believe you will find the FATHER told the MOTHER the SON said he shot the animals.
    Just like the MOTHER NEVER told the police he was off his meds.
    The neighbors DID say this.... HOWEVER it was AFTER the fact. We have still had NO confirmation he was on ANY meds.

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  22. You took my comments out of context, and my answer was based on that Stidhamn may have killed the animals, but we are not even sure they existed. I made that point to explain "possible" delusional thinking.
    I am not sure why the neighbors would make such a declaration unless they knew about him being on medication in the first place.
    As I did acknowledge in the blog, I did this all off newspaper accounts as there is not much information available, and will not be until Elyria finishes the investigation.
    The police have unique challenges in dealing with people in crisis, and I will be posting on that very issue next week. In that I will be discussing the dire financial situation facing law enforcement throughout the state, and the impact on mental health treatment
    Thank you for posting.

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  23. I have confirmed the LCSO has several officers trained in CIT. Deputy Crausaz & Barnes are 2 of them and they were on the scene.

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  24. Thank you for that information and posting. My next question would be were they the first two to make contact? Was it treated as a medical emergency which is the proper process for CIT? Here is a question that was raised to me during a discussion on this case; Did he point the gun at the officers, or was that a reflex to having the spotlight on him and in essence,did he point the gun at the light?In fact, I received a phone call last night raising a similiar question
    Thank you once again, and I hope you will continue to post to this site, good and bad. The purpose to begin to increase awareness of the major issues in the mental health system and the changes that need to take place.

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  25. I can't believe you said I took your comment OUT OF CONTEXT!
    He either told his mother that or he didn't. The entire conversation with his mother was posted on the Chronicle. You only had to listen to it.
    If your going to write a blog on an issue I would have thought you'd have listened to or read everything available on the subject.
    At least then you wouldn't be sharing the same misinformation that some of the rest of the media is printing.

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  26. i was referring to the alleged dead animals. I have read everything available, and you are focusing on comment. It was originally reported that his mother told the police about the dead animals, by ALL the media outlets.
    Many people are disputing the comments that "he was off his medication", but the neighbors echoed those words. The officer who was shot, even made mention of Stidham's mental illness.
    No one in the media is purposely spreading misinformation, as this story has, and will continue to unfold.
    I wanted to add one thing. This forum is designed to actually have a dialogue on mental illness; and I am glad you are posting and challenging. There is more misinformation about mental illness out in the public, then there is accurate. Keep posting, and keep challenging. Thank you!

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  27. For an update, I have been told that this individual had a criminal record from past altercations with police. Prior to posting this blog entry, I did check court records in the surrounding communities. I found no criminal violations. If anyone knows differently, please let me know.

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  28. Does Lorain County have a negotiator team?? If so, were they called out? Not to say that the outcome of this event would have been different, but trained negotiator teams tend to take more time to access the situation and give the pained individual a little more 'verbal care' because that is what they are trained to do. ---ckk

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  29. They are suppose to have CIT training officers, but it is unclear if they were on site. We will know more when the report is released which should be in a bout two weeks.

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