“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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Yes, Breitbart, 33,000 People ARE Killed with Guns Each Year

by

J.C. Schildbach, LMHC

There is absolutely nothing controversial about Hillary Clinton’s claim that, in the United States, “We have 33,000 people a year who die from guns”–except maybe to those who don’t understand how words and numbers work.

Yet, AWR Hawkins, breitbart.com’s “Second Amendment Columnist,” posted a “Fact-Check” column, titled “No, 33,000 Not Killed with Guns Each Year” following the third presidential debate, claiming that Clinton deliberately inflated the CDC numbers of firearm deaths by adding in suicides. This is not the first time Hawkins has posted similar complaints.

What Hawkins fails to do is explain how suicides by firearm somehow fall outside of the “33,000 people a year who die from guns.” Certainly, Hawkins must understand that somebody who uses a gun to kill him/herself is dead, and did use a gun in order to die—making that person someone who ‘died from a gun.’

Using Hawkins’ preferred language of people “killed with guns each year” still doesn’t change anything. A person who commits suicide with a firearm still was, in fact, killed with a gun.

suicide-gun-mouth

Hawkins also strikes out by putting the phrase “gun violence” in quotation marks, saying that the use of that phrase (which Clinton did not use in the quote he complains about) somehow plays into Clinton’s strategy of fooling the public. But, again, killing oneself with a firearm does qualify as “gun violence”–first of all, because it involves an act of violence; and secondly, because it involves a gun. Or you can reverse that so the gun is first and the violence is second—still doesn’t change anything.

I don’t want to get into speculation about things that Clinton didn’t say, but perhaps if she had used the phrase “gun crimes” or had referred to murders using guns, then Hawkins would have a better argument. But Clinton didn’t. So Hawkins doesn’t.

And, in case you’re wondering, the 33,000 figure is dead-on. Here’s a chart, showing the CDC numbers of gun deaths for the years 2010 to 2014 (2014 being the most recent year statistics are available) clearly showing that gun deaths have reached well above 33,000 per year for 2012, 2013, and 2014, and averaged 32,964 per year for the five-year period.

avg-gun-deaths-2010-to-2014

A handy chart of CDC statistics on gun deaths, lifted from Everytown for Gun Safety at  https://everytownresearch.org/gun-violence-by-the-numbers/

Now, I get that gun-loving Americans, including the Breitbart crowd, don’t like to believe anything negative about guns. They also don’t like to believe that they may, at some point, end up so distraught, or so deep in the throes of mental illness, that they might use their guns on themselves, and/or their family members or other loved ones—or perhaps even neighbors or random strangers.

By pushing the suicide statistics aside, or pretending they ‘don’t count’, Hawkins ignores a harsh reality here: that people who own guns tend to kill themselves with those guns far more than they kill an intruder in their home, or otherwise defend themselves from the big, bad, scary world out there. People who own guns kill themselves with those guns more often than criminals use guns to kill innocent citizens; and more frequently than ‘gang violence’ leads to gun deaths.

There is also considerable overlap in the “murder/suicide” category—where gun owners kill their significant others, family members, co-workers, or random strangers, prior to turning their guns on themselves. And because guns are such a quick and effective killing tool, the decision to use them in an act of violence on loved ones or oneself is often impulsive—a few too many bad days in a row, a bad argument following a few too many beers, or even a partner deciding they want out of a relationship, and the gun comes out as the ultimate way to put a stop to whatever is so aggravating.

As for mental illness, Hawkins’ argument becomes even less convincing in the face of all the clamoring about how we don’t have a gun problem in the U.S., but we have a mental health problem. Of course, people who make such an argument are usually talking about the mental health issues of mass shooters. Yet, if we (properly) view suicide as a mental health issue, then the numbers of firearm suicides become that much more disturbing. Gun owners kill themselves at a rate roughly twice as high as the rate of gun murders. That’s a vast mental health issue that’s not being addressed, and that is being exacerbated by guns.

Yes, I know that many of the people who want to argue in favor of guns like to point out that people who commit suicide will find the means to do so, even if you take their guns away–an argument which is demonstrably false in terms of overall lethality. There are many ways to map out the evidence showing this falsehood, including the high rate of suicide by firearm–roughly 50% of all suicides in the U.S. are completed using guns. Another way to conceptualize the difference in suicide methods is to compare suicide completion rates using firearms relative to suicide completion rates using other methods. For instance, plenty more people survive suicide attempts by overdosing on pills than survive suicide attempts using guns.

Those who are willing to brush off the connection between firearms and suicide also sometimes argue that suicide is a matter of personal freedom—of being allowed to end one’s life when one chooses. I will say that I’m not completely opposed to people being able to end their own lives on terms they choose. However, I’ve learned enough to know that people are least equipped to make that decision quickly, impulsively, or while in a deep depression (among many other factors). Very few people attempt suicide while they are thinking in the clearest of terms, or making a rational decision based on a comprehensive review of the facts.

Depression and many other forms of mental illness are notorious for their association with cognitive distortions, aka, “thinking errors”—misinterpreting the world around one, the impact one’s actions have on others, and the view other people have of one (again, among many other factors). As I’ve pointed out before, the idea that a gun keeps one safe is, itself, a cognitive distortion. The suicide-by-firearm statistics make that clear.

There is also, perhaps, a great irony here, in that Hawkins believes he is advocating for gun ownership, when the “mental health” approach to suicide prevention involves removing the means for suicide. That is, safety planning for suicide prevention involves taking away those means most likely to be used in a suicide attempt, while the person at risk for suicide gets treatment.

So, how do we address the mental health problems associated with guns and suicide? Take the guns away, at least until the person moves beyond risk for suicide. Of course, mental health treatment is not predictive. Risk factors can be weighed, and support systems assessed, but given the ease with which a person can use a gun to end her/his own life, a dip back into depression, a few more bad days, a drift away from regular engagement with one’s (positive) coping skills, and the risk can escalate once again.

Hawkins thinks he is supporting gun rights by poo-pooing the statistics on firearm deaths in the United States. But what he is actually doing is pointing out that suicide is twice as big a problem, where guns are concerned, as murder is. His solution is to pretend the people who commit suicide with guns aren’t really people who “die from guns.”

At base, he is arguing that people who commit suicide with guns aren’t really people…or perhaps aren’t really people who deserve the support to go on living.

 

A Duggar Finally Admits Josh Broke the Law

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

On June 3rd, Megyn Kelly dedicated an entire episode of her Fox News show, “The Kelly File,” to an interview with Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar.

There weren’t any particular surprises that turned up, except maybe that Jessa and Jill Duggar, two of the daughters who now apparently admit to having been victimized by Josh, were also interviewed by Kelly. But that interview is being aired later.

Aside from that, Jim Bob and Michelle did little more than reiterate that “as parents” (a phrase that was uttered constantly throughout the show by both interviewer and interviewees—part of the battle cry of Duggar supporters who feel the state should stay out of family business) Jim Bob and Michelle did the best they knew how. They also insisted that they were the real victims in all this, because some people with “an agenda”—a “dog-whistle” phrase for Fox News viewers that indicates the LGBTQ community—are trying to tear the Duggar family down.

Oh yeah, and, in reference to Josh Duggar, Jim Bob actually uttered the phrase, “he’d broken the law.”

"I didn't just say my son broke the law, did I?"

“I didn’t just say my son broke the law, did I?”

I’m guessing Jim Bob didn’t really mean to say that. After all, the interview was clearly coached, if not at least roughly scripted, and none of the participants referred to any of Josh’s actions as crimes or sexual assaults.

Jim Bob, instead, called Josh’s crimes “choices,” “unwise choices,” “decisions,” “very bad things,” “a bad thing,” “improper touching,” “what he did,” “the act,” and “stuff that happened 12 years ago.” When asked about the particulars of the crimes, Jim Bob could not help but minimize Josh’s actions, saying that Josh was “curious about girls,” that he “touched them over their clothes,” that there were “a couple of incidents where he touched them under their clothes—but it was like a few seconds,” that the crimes involved only “a real quick touch while they were asleep for most of them; and there were two other incidents that were when they were awake,” and best of all, that it “was not rape or anything like that.” (I don’t know, Jim Bob, some of those actions are about as “like rape” as you can get without actually meeting the legal definition of rape). Getting religious, Jim Bob said his “son’s heart had gone astray” and that Josh had “violated God’s principles.”

Doing her part, Michelle called Josh’s actions, “mistakes,” “wrongdoing,” “wrongdoings,” “really bad choices,” “improperly touching a young one,” and “some very bad things.”

At the outset, it seemed like Megyn Kelly might actually attempt to provide some clarity about the crimes, stating in the opening to the show that Josh had “forcibly touched at least five girls.” But, while she was talking with the Duggars, Kelly helped them along in their minimization, referring to Josh’s crimes as “this problem,” “testing,” and “a fondling.”

Perhaps even more disgusting than minimizing the sexual assaults Josh committed by using rather soft language to describe the crimes, was Jim Bob and Michelle’s repeated insistence that the assaults were of little concern to the victims, because in most of the incidents, the girls were asleep and “didn’t even know he’d done it,” or “weren’t even aware.” And, in those cases where the girls were aware of what had happened, the Duggars suggested that the girls “were confused” by the actions or “didn’t understand” what happened anyway.

So, y’know. No big deal for the girls–and, yes, I’m guessing that being sexually assaulted by your big brother is probably confusing and hard to understand.

Strangely enough, though, the Duggars said multiple times that they had talked to their girls about improper touch, so that the girls would understand what it was, and so that the girls would let their parents know if it happened.

Even when Kelly directly asked Jim Bob what it was like to have to worry about the sexual abuse “as a father of daughters,” Jim Bob was able to make only the most cursory of remarks about his daughters before fixing his attention elsewhere. His exact response was, in what may have been an unintentionally revealing look into the community to which the Duggars belong, “I was so thankful, though, that Josh came and told us. And our girls, even though this was a very bad situation, as we talked to other families who’ve had other things happen, a lot of their stories were even worse.”

So, again, no big deal. I mean, everybody’s doing it. Right? And a lot of them are doing worse stuff.

Beyond that, the Duggars provided many other tortured and defensive responses to the most common criticisms that have been leveled against them. For instance, they admitted that the man in Little Rock Arkansas, who Josh went to for ‘counseling’ really wasn’t a counselor, but “was running a little training center” (Jim Bob’s words).

Still, Michelle insisted that, “all of our children received professional counseling,” with Jim Bob adding, “from an accredited, professional counselor.” Now, there are scenarios where this could have happened. For instance, if the parents put the children into counseling sometime after the report that triggered the investigation had already been made, then any further reporting by actual counselors would have been redundant and made little difference in the progression of events. Getting the kids into counseling at that time would also make it appear as if the parents were trying to do the right thing by taking appropriate steps to address the situation.

Aside from that, though, any counselor who had any information about Josh’s crimes, and knowledge that Josh was still in the home with numerous other children, would have had to make a report to Child Protective Services. And unless CPS completely dropped the ball, Josh would not have been able to make it out beyond the statute of limitations that kept him from being prosecuted. But Kelly did not ask them to clarify anything about the “professional counseling” at all.

Kelly also let Jim Bob go unchallenged, as he spun his version of events regarding the “report” made to an Arkansas State Trooper, Jim Hutchens, who later ended up going to prison for possession of child pornography. (It was during this portion of the interview that Jim Bob actually admitted that Josh had “broken the law”). Still, the main point of Jim Bob’s story was that they told the police about Josh’s ‘mistakes’ and the police didn’t file a report with CPS, so that’s on the police. Or, as Jim Bob said, Hutchens “violated the law himself by not reporting this incident.”

In addition, Jim Bob asserted that, “The last jurisdiction of who he (Josh) needed to make things right with was the law.” It all sounds something like the Duggar version of ‘f*ck the police.’

Jim Bob’s explanation of events also suggested it was only by chance that the report was made to a trooper that Jim Bob knew personally (although Jim Bob implied he only know Hutchens incidentally because of a towing business Jim Bob had in the past), and that a “witness” went along to make sure it would be clear what Josh said to Trooper Hutchens. Jim Bob neglected to mention that the “witness” was actually multiple church elders.

It was, one can safely assume, by design that Jim Bob never said “church elders,” even though they had been brought up several times in earlier Duggar family accounts of events—including when Jim Bob Duggar met with the church elders to discuss Josh’s ‘choices’ before he was sent off to that “little training center”—all because one of the church elders allegedly advised Jim Bob not to send Josh to “one of those juvenile youth sex offender facilities” because “the success rate is not very good.”

Megyn Kelly actually provides some information, urging viewers to call for help if their brother, or anyone else, is sexually abusing them.

Megyn Kelly actually provides some information, urging viewers to call for help if their brother, or anyone else, is sexually abusing them.

Kelly let the “success rate” statement slide even though at the conclusion of her show, she explained that, according to Department of Justice Statistics, “85 to 90 percent” of juvenile sex offenders “never are arrested for sex crimes again.” Kelly did not point out that those juveniles who receive treatment specifically for sex offense behaviors have lower rates of re-offense than those who do not.

At any rate, in the version of events doctored for the Kelly Interview, the elders have now been transformed into Jim Bob’s “good friends.” The reason for the elders now simply being good friends is probably because, in the state of Arkansas, clergy members are considered mandated reporters. There’s a little bit of fuzziness to the law’s language about what constitutes a “clergy member”—but not so much that the church elders want to go on being identified as people who were aware of Josh’s crimes, yet didn’t bother to make a report. That fear of attention would be of particular concern for any pastor who was aware of Josh’s actions. There’s no fuzziness about the legal language regarding the obligations of pastors to report incidents of child abuse.

Rest assured, though, Jim Bob is most certainly not a mandated reporter. He boldly declared that, “As parents you’re not mandatory reporters. The law allows for parents to do what they think is best for their child.”

That is, to be sure, a rather broad reading of the law. Parents are not mandated reporters in Arkansas (but they are in several other states). However, the law isn’t exactly set up so that parents can “do what they think is best” without any consequences. There are, for instance, laws against child endangerment—endangerment like keeping your sexually abusive son in the home with the victims of his sexual abuse, as well as numerous other potential victims (which is, if I remember correctly, a big part of the reason TLC claimed they cancelled ‘Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.’)

But the Duggars really only want us to know that they did everything as best they knew how, and tried to do right, and that they are now being victimized.

They are being victimized by the Children’s Safety Center and the police, even though the Duggar children “shared everything” with investigators—or maybe not, and even though Jim Bob tried to keep Josh away from those investigators.

They are being “victimized by people with an agenda” (wink, wink, dog whistle, dog whistle). Kelly had to repeatedly ask a question about the appearance of hypocrisy—feeding Michelle Duggar a line about Michelle’s robocall that said transgender people are “child molesters” before Michelle finally remembered to start down the right road that would allow (or rather require) Jim Bob to point out that Michelle had really called them pedophiles—and Josh is not a pedophile (although he is certainly someone who engaged in sexual assault as a minor, including incestuous sexual assault).

Michelle Duggar struggles to remember just which offensive thing it was that she was supposed to say about transgender people.

Michelle Duggar struggles to remember just which offensive thing it was that she was supposed to say about transgender people.

And Kelly further helped with the appearance of victimization by asking if the Duggars are being “slandered” because of their Christian beliefs. One would think that Kelly, as an attorney, and working for a news organization, would be able to apply the term “slander” correctly—but I guess not. And then there’s the matter of what “Christian” actually means.

To the Duggars, Christianity means something far different than what most Christians believe, and is extremely distant from what most other Christians practice. In addition to their bizarre emphasis on sexual purity, the Duggars also apparently view humility, contrition, and truth-telling as optional elements of their beliefs. And, where that doesn’t violate the law, that’s their right as citizens of these United States.

But the Duggars want to have it both ways, proclaiming the greatness of God while indulging in the rites of Mammon. They want to have a hand in crafting the laws of this country, and in having laws enforced against others—but they don’t want the laws of the country being enforced against their family. And contrary to what the Duggars said about doing their part to deal correctly with the sexual abuse that Josh committed, they did not engage in any kind of legitimately legal process for addressing it—which is a stereotypical thing for politicians to do when their children get in trouble—pull a few strings, ask a few favors, keep it all hush hush, and lawyer up when necessary.

And if the interview with Megyn Kelly demonstrated anything, it’s that Jim Bob Duggar is, first and foremost, a politician—intent on crafting a message and maintaining an image. For her part, Kelly is complicit in that image-making, including the part where sexual abuse is minimized—and all for the same reasons as Jim Bob—ratings, money, and influence.