Friday, July 20, 2012
Elyria Police;Suicide by cop...sad, but common
This past Sunday a tragedy ensued in Elyria, which left a seemingly disturbed man dead and his family asking questions on how it was handled by the local police.
Though all the facts are not yet known, this much is; On Sunday July 15th, William King called the dispatch center for the city of Elyria and told the dispatcher that he had killed his wife. At that point, the police were notified, and numerous officers were sent out to his residence. Once there, they seem to have attempted to communicate with Mr. King. His response was to exit his home holding a gun to his head. At some point, he reportedly pointed his weapon at the police and they responded by discharging their weapons and mortally wounding him.
Within a short time, family members came forward to denounce the Elyria Police Department’s handling of the situation. In fact, in a recent article, his brother Walter King was openly critical of their actions because he felt that since there were at least eight shots fired, the police were fairly aggressive in this approach. He felt that his brother “didn’t deserve what he got!” He also went on to argue that this was not a suicide by cop.
There are other critical comments that seemed to be overshadowed here. In the same article, Mr. King admits that his brother “had a little bit of problems,” but he did not elaborate or volunteer what he meant by that. He did go on and acknowledge that William King was a “bit down with his disease,” as he admitted that he suffered from cirrhosis of the liver.
Though it is strictly conjecture, it would not be a stretch to conclude mental health issues played a role in this tragic death. Mr. King called the police and falsely said he had killed his wife, who it turns out was not even home at the time. He then exited his house with a gun pointed at his head. At this time, the police were witnessing the actions of someone who is “not” thinking clearly and rationally. Additionally, there is little doubt that a disease such as cirrhosis of the liver can dramatically alter your thought process. It is reasonable to believe that anyone suffering from a terminal illness would be particularly prone to depression and morbid thoughts. It must be added, that people with liver disease do at times suffer periods of confusion because their liver cannot dispel toxins properly throughout their body. Add to this stress the painful symptoms of this illness, and it is little wonder that anyone suffering would have a difficult time keeping themselves from getting desperate.
Personally, I can understand his brother being angry and wanting to blame the police. I am certain Mr. King was the good person as he described by him. When something catastrophic occurs people want justice and with none in sight, they will at times project some misguided blame. It appears that is what is occurring in this case.
First and foremost, to say this was not suicide by cop is just not fair to the police officers on the scene. According to a study published in the Journal of Forensic Science, this type of suicide is one that is estimated to occur in over a third of all officer involved shootings that arise in this country. It leaves both the family and the police officers involved shaken and asking themselves if it could have been avoided. Sadly, like many suicides, once the person reaches that level of desperation it is difficult to prevent this lonely and misunderstood death.
In the past, I suffered from severe mental illness and attempted to end my life, and only dumb luck saved me. Today I spend a vast amount of time working with law enforcement officers, assisting them in dealing with people in similar crises. This work gives me a unique perspective on these challenges. In classroom settings, I encourage police officers to defuse tense situations, but never forget, always to protect themselves first. My primary goal is get the afflicted person some much needed help, and for the officer to go home safely to their family.
Though all the facts are not yet known, there are enough known to draw valid conclusions. Based on what occurred and my experience, I strongly believe that this was a suicide by cop, brought on by his illness. Clear thinking individuals do not call the police with the knowledge that it would result in an aggressive law enforcement response without a clear goal in mind. No one but Mr. King himself knows as to whether he wanted to die or wanted his suffering to end, but his actions spoke volumes.
Addressing the topic of Mr. King’s brother with regards to the number of shots fired, one thing must be remembered. Once he pointed that weapon all the officers at the scene reacted with the impression that he could have shot at them personally. One thing is clear; Mr. King left these officers no options, but the one they choose.
I am hoping that in time that his brother and the rest of his family can find peace and understanding about what occurred. No one on this department wanted this ending. It was just a situation that could not be avoided. This man was suffering with a disease that in its end stage is quite painful and that could have been a contributing factor in this tragic outcome. I also hope the police officers involved can come to the realization and understand that they did nothing wrong. They were only doing their jobs and the outcome was unavoidable.
The Elyria Police, have proven to me on more the one occasion to be a fine department, striving to do the right thing. This has not always been the case. However, in the past several years, many positive changes have taken place within the department which warrants both recognition and the citizens giving the department “the benefit of the doubt” with situations such as this.
The Lorain County Sheriff’s department is investigating this case. Though this department made some crucial mistakes in a tragic circumstance in Lagrange last winter which led to a deputy being wounded by friendly fire, and one man dead, I believe the actions of the Elyria Police will stand on its own merit.
After reading some comments from the public on this tragedy, I must add a personal observation and hope my point is made clear! William King was not a criminal. William King was a man who was sick. He and his family deserve respect, compassion and sympathy from everyone. For those who have mocked his death, I urge you to remember one thing and never forget it. Anyone can get sick. Anyone can become suicidal. Any one of us could end up attempting to take our own life. If you are one of the fortunate that have never had to experience so much pain that drives you to end their life, I have some advice. Say a prayer of thanks for that blessing each and every day of your life. I know and knew many people who wish they had your good fortune!