“Suicide by Cop”—Mental Illness and Law Enforcement Response

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

Georgia Tech engineering student and Pride Alliance president Scout Schultz phoned 911 at 11:17 p.m. Eastern last Saturday night to report a dangerous, armed individual—Scout Shultz. All indications are that the call was a suicide attempt, which the police, lamentably, completed.

In the world of crisis intervention and suicide prevention, we routinely assess for plan, means, and intent. In other words, we ask if someone expressing suicidal ideation has a plan to harm themself; if so, we ask if they have the means to carry out the plan; and we also seek to determine how determined the suicidal person is to actually go through with the plan.

For instance, if an adult male says he is suicidal and has a plan to shoot himself, but he has no access to a gun, there is a plan but no means. If that same person has a plan to shoot himself, and access to a gun, but says he is not going to do it because he would never do that to his family or has religious reasons for avoiding suicide, then he has a plan and means, but the intent is absent or lacking. If that same person has a plan to shoot himself as soon as he finishes his drink, access to a gun, and no reasons he identifies for not shooting himself, then plan, means and intent have all come together in a rather urgent fashion.

In the case of Schultz, the plan, means, and intent might be characterized in the following way.

Plan: suicide by cop; means: a call to 911 to anonymously report self (in the third person) as an armed danger to the community; intent: plenty enough to make the call and brandish a weapon at the police.

Scout and the cops

Crisis intervention or crisis escalation?

Schultz apparently knew enough to indicate the possible presence of a gun, rather than just reporting the knife (which turned out to be a “multipurpose tool”—something that is generally less fatal than a gun, or even, say, a hunting knife or kitchen knife). The threat of a firearm is likely to put officers in a different frame of mind prior to even arriving on scene, even if protocols are still essentially the same.

Even so, it is puzzling that an officer, with a second officer nearby who was also aiming a gun at the allegedly dangerous individual, would choose to stop said multipurpose-tool-wielding individual with a bullet to the chest. Granted, even with the best training available, professionals can panic in novel situations, or situations where they feel threatened. And, generally speaking, the sense of feeling threatened is the main criteria for police officers to be excused for fatally shooting anybody, regardless of what that anybody may be armed with, or why they may be engaging in some form of threatening behavior.

For those not familiar with the dynamic, I suppose there could be questions about how being shot by the police is a form of suicide. But for people in crisis intervention and suicide prevention, and, I suspect, for a majority of law enforcement officers out there, it’s far more common than one might imagine. Deliberately provoking an armed person into killing you is, arguably, less difficult than taking the steps yourself. For instance, if you don’t have access to a gun, shooting yourself is rather difficult. Getting shot by someone else is, perhaps, more within reach.

Beyond that, any method of suicide where you have to push yourself into that final, fatal act forces you to overcome eons of ingrained animal behavior that drives you to keep yourself alive. With the right threats, a suicidal person can turn that same instinct in someone else into a means for suicide completion.

When it comes to crisis intervention, and 911 dispatch, suicide by cop is also a bit of a conundrum. If a person calls to report suicidal ideation and refuses to ‘contract for safety’ (essentially, agree to do something other than killing him/herself), the person can report any of a number of intended means of suicide, including “suicide by cop”, knowing that the standard protocol in any report of intent to complete suicide is to send police out for a ‘welfare check’. Whether or not the person reports “suicide by cop” as the intended means, he/she is likely to know that the right provocation can lead to the use of deadly force. The police will get almost always get dispatched one way or another, because of the threat of suicide, and the directives to get suicidal people to an Emergency Room for a mental health assessment.

Schultz found a way to bypass some of the usual protocols by going straight to 911 and exaggerating the threat. No crisis counselors engaging in a clinical assessment. Deliberately misleading information provided to 911 dispatchers, which was, in turn, relayed to police.

But the entire situation begs plenty of questions about how Schultz’s plan, assuming Schultz was fully intending to die, could have been brought to fruition with what was essentially a minor manipulation of information.

Why was a shot to the chest the means the officer chose as self-preservation and to subdue the threat? If a gun needed to be the tool of choice, why wasn’t a debilitating, but non-fatal shot attempted instead? Why did the officers not use a taser or pepper spray to disable Schultz?

But, perhaps most of all, we need to ask if there are there police officers who aren’t trained to recognize and address attempts at suicide by cop? Police officers, so divorced from knowledge of mental health issues and basic human behavior that all threats are considered deadly? Police officers who are not trained to reasonably assess the threat level any given individual represents and to respond with non-lethal force in every instance possible?

Granted, when they are sent out on a call, law enforcement officers never know what they are walking into, or how any particular situation may unfold, and only have whatever information has been provided dispatchers, and then been filtered down to them. Such an information chain most certainly adds to the stress of police officers’ jobs, and the potential for error.

This post isn’t intended as an anti-police rant. In crisis intervention, mental health professionals have to work closely with the police in coordinating appropriate responses to potentially dangerous situations—which are most often about clients putting themselves at risk more than anyone else. That said, Police are the ones who put themselves in harm’s way as first responders, to ensure that nurses, doctors, social workers, and counselors can then step in to engage in assessments and treatment.

But we need to make sure that police aren’t bringing guns to a multipurpose-tool fight as part of a routine and accepted response, especially when that fight is against people struggling with mental illness—lest the need for mental health assessment and treatment is removed by a fatal, law-enforcement-administered gunshot.

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Matt Walsh Freaks Out Over Supreme Court Decision He Hasn’t Read (Or Didn’t Understand)

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

It’s more than a bit comical that Matt Walsh accuses Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges (the same-sex marriage case) of reading “like a lengthy Facebook post written by a 17-year-old” given that Walsh, utilizing the ‘you’re-not-the-boss-of-me’-style language of 6-year-olds, titled his own angry rant about the decision “Gay Marriage Still Doesn’t Exist No Matter What the Supreme Court Says.”

Walsh really should have added two or three exclamation points and at least one angry emoji to that title.

Walsh claims, repeatedly, that Kennedy and the other majority justices simply made up the right to marry for, well, adults who Walsh thinks are gross and icky. He claims that there is no legal precedent for such a decision, and that the majority opinion “barely attempts to offer anything resembling a constitutional defense or a coherent thought.”

Matt Walsh on his porch--Why bother with an actual analysis of a Supreme Court decision my audience will never read anyway?

Matt Walsh on his porch–Why bother with an actual analysis of a Supreme Court decision my audience will never read anyway?

I’m guessing Walsh didn’t actually read the legal arguments offered in the majority opinion. Barring that, one can only assume that Walsh was so consumed with rage over all those icky and gross people being allowed to marry that he was incapable of comprehending what the opinion said—or that he’s just too stupid and childish to understand the “constitutional defense” that is offered, and offered in great detail, with multiple citations of precedent cases.

After all, Walsh does not actually link to the decision, so that his readers would be able to check the validity of his arguments. Instead, he links to another article on The Blaze (which does link to the Court opinion), and to stories on CBS News, NBC News and even, yes, to MSNBC, as evidence that the court “upended the institution of marriage, dismantled the rule of law, undermined the will of the people, and canceled out the legislative process entirely.”

Let’s take a brief pause so that you can check out the Majority Opinion. It is rather lengthy, but, in case you don’t want to read the whole thing, like many Court opinions, there is a “syllabus” at the outset (the first five pages in this case) that explains the overall issues, legal precedent, and basis for the decision.

Majority Opinion

Had Walsh read even the syllabus (and been able to comprehend it) he would have realized that the court argued:

  • The “institution of marriage” has had an evolving definition over time, which basically means his whole argument about what marriage “really” means is only so much, to borrow a phrase from Justice Scalia’s recent Obamacare dissent, jiggery pokery.
  • The rule of law was not “dismantled” in this case, but worked exactly like it was supposed to—utilizing legal precedent, and examining the specific impacts of particular laws and legal questions, to arrive at a decision about how laws can be equally applied to all adult citizens of the United States. That’s kind of the job of the Supreme Court, Matt.
  • ‘Undermining the will of the people’ is, perhaps, a bit more complicated. Yes, there are states where people voted to keep same-sex couples from marrying, just like there are states where people voted to allow same-sex marriage. But, to borrow a bit of bumper-sticker-style wisdom, that’s the great thing about rights: we don’t get to vote on who is allowed to have them and who isn’t. Everybody gets them.
  • As for “cancelling out the legislative process”—laws are subject to judicial review. That’s how that whole “balance of powers” thing is supposed to work. Funny thing is that laws can be “cancelled out” if it turns out that they’re illegal.

But Walsh tries to make the argument that the same-sex marriage decision is evidence that liberals have taken over everything throughout all of America, and are doing all they can to attack Christians and make the once-great United States of America into some gross, icky thing where Matt Walsh has to put up with gross, icky people, just because liberals want to make people like Matt Walsh all mad and uncomfortable and stuff.  Walsh seems to forget that there are plenty of Supreme Court case decisions that liberals haven’t been particularly happy about, but when you have a persecution complex, you have to ignore all evidence that doesn’t allow you to play the victim (especially as you accuse others of playing the victim).

There are multiple meltdowns throughout Walsh’s piece, including this string of ‘ideas’ that sound like an affirmation for people suffering a break from reality because of the Court decision: “There is no right to gay marriage. There is no gay marriage. It’s not real. It’s not possible. It’s make-believe. It means nothing.”

It almost makes you feel sympathetic enough that you wish one of Matt’s super-heterosexual friends would grab him by the shoulders, slap him, and tell him to get a grip.

Walsh continues on with a segment that he subtitles “What is a Right?” He makes the claim that, to liberals, “a right is some sort of cosmic force that guarantees him access to whatever he happens to want,” going on to enlighten everyone that “Constitutional rights” and “human rights” are, instead, those rights bestowed on us by our “Creator.” So, rights are not a “cosmic force,” but rather granted by our “Creator.” Good thing Walsh cleared that up. It all makes sense now.

But just a few follow up questions–does the Creator grant us rights based on what we want, or what we need, or is there some other criteria?  And does the creator only grant those rights to heterosexuals?  Or, maybe the heterosexuals get some of those rights to themselves, but not all of the rights only to themselves?

Also included is a segment subtitled “What is Homosexuality” in which Walsh argues that anything other than good, old, heterosexual, marriage-based boning is just a bunch of twisted urges that people can walk away from.  Or, in other words, if you think you might be something other than completely heterosexual, you are confused and looking to justify your desire to engage in sinful behavior.

Okay, Matt, we all get that you’re confused by the idea that there are people who think sex might involve more than just attempts to make babies, and that gender identity might involve more than the binary boys vs. girls. But your confusion doesn’t mean that you are an expert on human sexuality. In fact, your confusion pretty much means that you’re the opposite of an expert on human sexuality—some might even say that it means you’re completely ignorant and should probably not say anything else on this topic–at all–ever.

In Walsh’s view, there are greater goods to be achieved by marriage, such as stability in society.  But, he asserts that somehow that stability is undermined unless marriage exists only so that families can be created–and created by fertile, heterosexual couples. Walsh does not feel the need to fully explain himself here, as we all know that families are only and always created by heterosexuals marrying and having children—no exceptions. We also know that having children is the only reason people get married, and that anyone who is not heterosexual does not have/belong in a family.

Walsh says that even though the Supreme Court changed the definition of marriage in this case, there are still limits on marriage that the court is willing to enforce, and wonders why that is. Of course, most of the examples of marriage limitations that Walsh cites are pointless—a human and anything non-human, three or more humans, multiple humans along with other non-humans, an adult and a child, etc. These arguments are meaningless, because the Court is not asserting that marriage involves anything other than two adults willingly entering into a legal relationship, which is the question the Court was charged with answering.

Those situations Walsh hightlights where there is potential for further clarification of legal definition—including the example of a brother and sister wanting to get married, or multiple people wanting to get married in a polygamous union—are not involved in the current decision. Arguably, it is possible that cases involving such relationships could come up in the future. But they are not at question now, and the same-sex marriage decision does nothing to allow such unions. For now, the decision allows each adult to enter into a (non-incestuous) consensual marital relationship with one other adult—which means it is giving all adults the same, basic right, instead of granting it only to the people Walsh thinks are not gross and icky.

Ignoring the entire history of marriage, which has involved a range of issues much more than simple love and procreation between two God-fearing Christians, Walsh makes the absurd claim that marriage is only and always a union condoned by God and God alone, having nothing to do with the state. He, for example, ignores the fact that marriage predates even the Jewish religion, not to mention the Christian religion, and that much of it involved such events as arranged marriages that were tied to issues of property and inheritance, including those property exchanges where the wives were considered part of the property. I’m guessing Walsh is okay with at least some of the changes in the definition of marriage that have occurred over time; although if that is the case, it would essentially undermine his own argument of an eternal, monolithic definition of marriage.

Walsh further asserts that allowing only heterosexual marriage does nothing to harm gay people, and that, “Before the legalization of gay marriage, the government wasn’t ‘involved’ in marriage, as so many have claimed.” This is just patently stupid. One would have to be completely ignorant of what the law says about property rights, transfer of property rights, legal say over medical decisions, legal say over custody rights of children, and numerous other legal rights, responsibilities, and benefits that come with marriage to make such an argument.

And even if Walsh was ignorant of the myriad rights and legal benefits that marriage confers, he would have understood at least some of those issues if he had bothered to actually read the Majority Opinion, or even the syllabus of the Majority Opinion, wherein several specific situations of the petitioners are made clear, involving (gay) adults and their families being deprived of rights because they were not legally allowed to be married, or because one state recognized that right, but another did not.

It’s irresponsible enough to assert that something represents an illegal power grab by one’s political opponents simply because one disagrees with that thing. It’s even worse to assert that something lacks legal standing when one has not bothered to read and understand that thing. And it’s worse, still, to assert that something lacks legal standing when one has read and understood that thing, and simply decided one would rather argue to the contrary for one’s audience, knowing full well that said audience will not bother to read and understand the original thing and are simply looking for someone to lay out an argument that supports their own anger and lack of understanding.

In this case, giving Walsh the benefit of the doubt would mean one of a few very distasteful options: that he either didn’t read the Court opinion, or that he didn’t understand it. Otherwise, he is deliberately lying to his readers.

In the end, Walsh’s argument comes down to his view of what is right, based only on his beliefs. But rather than asserting that it is his view, he asserts that what he views as right is the absolute truth, and that it is backed up by God Almighty as it has always been and always will be.

Walsh apparently doesn’t recognize that even God changes God’s mind—I mean, at least if you believe in that whole law/gospel, Old Testament/New Testament business.

Still, I will grant that Walsh is right about one thing.

There is no such thing as gay marriage.

It’s just marriage now.