A call to 911 for help only led to regret
Two families called for help from law enforcement for their sons, but it only led to brutal results, your Friday long read from The Atlantic
We go to The Atlantic for this weeks long read by Sarah Shourd, read the whole article “They Called for Help. They’d Always Regret It.” We include key excerpts below to convince you it’s worth your time!
911 calls for mental health needs lead to tragedy
Frightened and half-asleep, Antonietta picked up her cell phone and dialed 911. About 10 police cars showed up, she says. When they arrived, she recalls, she told the police that Carlos had been off his medication for weeks and refusing to come inside. He’d been collecting trash in the backyard and had set some on fire to warm himself. “He doesn’t do anything because he wants to do it,” she remembers telling them. “He’s doing that because he’s sick.” Even so, Carlos was taken to jail.
Five months earlier and about 400 miles northwest, a similar scene had played out in the Bay Area city of Fremont. Police officers arrived at the door of Jose Jaime and Gabby Covarrubias, responding to a 911 call for help with their 20-year-old son, Christian Madrigal. “He needs to go back to the clinic,” Jose, Christian’s stepfather, says he told the police. “Something bad has happened in his mind.” Two weeks earlier, Christian had tried hallucinogenic mushrooms for the first time, and he hadn’t been normal since. “When you looked him in the eyes, he was not our boy,” Jose told me. “His eyes were different. His face was different. Everything was different.”
Another long corridor leads us to the Intake, Transfer, and Release lobby, which I immediately recognize from body-cam footage I’ve now watched numerous times. In the video, two officers carry Christian into the building like you would carry a bench or a slab of wood. His face is obscured by a spit mask made of nylon mesh. His hands are cuffed and chained, and his legs are wrapped together tightly with a restraining device. They place him on the floor, and eight or nine more deputies enter and form a circle around him, chatting among themselves. “He’s not answering questions,” one of the officers had said earlier. “He’s playing the game. He’s been here before, eh?”
He hadn’t. Until recently, he’d never had an interaction with the police, good or bad. Jose knew that as Latino men, he and his sons could be targets, so he advised them to always play it safe. “If the cop says dance, you dance,” he told them. “And if the cop says don’t breathe, you just don’t breathe. You do whatever the cop tells you to do.”
In the body-cam footage, Christian is unresponsive to the deputies’ questions, but he doesn’t resist or defy orders. Did he know where he was? Was he hearing voices? “When people are what we call ‘internally preoccupied,’ they’re not going to be able to follow instructions,” Christine Montross said. But in a jail, not responding can be interpreted as disrespect.
At Santa Rita, I asked Kelly to take me to cell R-1. The cramped, windowless space contained a steel sink and toilet and a concrete bench. I immediately scanned the cell door for the food slot, which played a large part in Christian’s death.
Meanwhile, death rates—especially suicide rates—in American jails continue to rise. The pandemic could have been used as a chance to rethink how our mentally ill population is cared for, but for now, most people sucked into the system are at the mercy of forces outside their control, and diversion opportunities remain rare. “Things are starting to shift in places like L.A.,” Insha Rahman, the vice president of advocacy and partnerships at the Vera Institute of Justice, told me. “We see one, great outcome for the Zuñiga family, but they are an outlier … That option of finding an alternative to incarceration is still few and far between.”
Read the whole article here.
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