Posts tagged ‘Police’

One Cat, Six days and a Shot of Haldol

I had not heard the horrible story of Chris Muth’s 2008 psychiatric incarceration and forced drugging until reading of it on the blog Lunatic Fringe. The whole thing underscores the fact that the difference between sane and insane can be a simple matter of whether the right people believe you.

In July of 2008, Chris Muth was visited by a guest and his cat, Rumi. At some point, Rumi was poking around Muth’s apartment and entered a small hole in the bathroom wall. Muth ripped the wall open in hopes of rescuing a trapped Rumi, who returned his cat-calls, to no avail.  As it turns out, the small hole led to a large drop and Rumi fell 30 feet down a shaft within the wall. In his attempts to rescue the cat, he did break into an unoccupied apartment to create an opening. Understandably, the authorities were called. What is not so easy to understand is the leap the officers made next.

Not believing there was actually a cat stuck behind the wall, the police hauled him off to the psychiatric ward at Long Island College Hospital where he was held for six days. That is unconscionable. A man loses six days of his freedom because the cops mistake a very real cat for a psychotic delusion. Muth lost more than just six days through the ordeal. He lost his home, his girlfriend and his job while in LICH’s “care.”

In typical haul-them-in-and-label-them fashion, Muth’s medical records state that he “has the bizarre delusion [that he] was trying to ‘save’ a cat of his friend.” I wonder what kind of tests they administered to determine the existence of Rumi the cat. Surely they didn’t just take the officers’ word. Right? Muth, having had enough, decided to speak up saying to the resident nurse on duty, “‘Give me a pencil and paper. I’m going to write a press release and you are going to be the laughingstock of New York.”  Apparently no one informed him that the right to free speech doesn’t apply to psych patients any more than the right to due process. She did not get him a pencil and paper. She chose instead to  call for orderlies who held him down while she injected him with Haldol, a particularly ugly and powerful drug from the old round of antipsychotics — a blatantly punitive chemical assault and not an attempt at anything even resembling health, treatment or care.

“How can you stand up for yourself in this culture? You can punch someone and get arrested, or you can sue,” Muth said. And  he’s doing just that — suing the hospital and 11 0f its employees for a total of $260, 000. Considering what he’s been through and what was taken from him, that doesn’t seem like much. I hope he gets something that he can call justice out of the ordeal.

There you have it. A man carted off by the police to a psych ward, denied his basic human rights and civil liberties, separated from his freedom, his home and his source of income, held down and drugged by force — all because the police didn’t think the cat was real. And what if it hadn’t been? Would any of this be acceptable if it had all been a delusion? That’s not a rhetorical question. We need to seriously question what constitutes an abusive system, which rights we can do without and what it takes to trade them in. The mental health system has acted as a system of punishment for people on the margins of society for far too long. If Chris Muth can find himself in this situation, what misunderstanding or perception can put you there?

Rumi was eventually rescued by an animal control officer and is doing well after 15 days behind the wall. Here is an article about the original event and one about the subsequent lawsuit, both from The Brooklyn Paper.

December 23, 2009 at 12:20 am


The AP article’s first paragraph says it all — well, almost.

The police officer who used a Taser on a mentally ill man who died as a result of the two high-voltage shocks will not be disciplined and remains on patrol, the Fort Worth police chief said Friday.

Police in Fort Worth were called to the Jacobs’ residence due to a disturbance of some sort. Officers say 24 year old Michael Patrick Jacobs  became “combative”. That’s when Officer Stephanie Phillips saw fit to administer two shocks with a taser, the first of which lasted 49 seconds and was followed by a one second pause and another 5 second burst. Michael died as a direct result of those shocks — in his yard, in front of his family, at the hands of a police officer — with a supposedly non-lethal device. The medical exmainer ruled it a homicide. The police chief’s response?

“This is the second worst thing that could happen to a police officer, right behind dying in the line of duty”.

Happen to a police officer? If we’re weighing tombstones against paychecks this didn’t happen to a police officer, it happened to a 24 year old man and it shouldn’t have. Forty-nine seconds?

An autopsy concluded that the primary cause of death was “sudden death during neuromuscular incapacitation due to application of a conducted energy device,” and said no traces of alcohol or drugs, electrolyte imbalances, or signs of heart or lung disease were found — all of which can be contributing factors in a death.

Police across the nation are using tasers as a dangerous and often heavy handed substitute for reasonable physical restraint or verbal de-escalation. Those things take skill and resemble work and are not nearly punitive enough to reinforce the line between civilian and officer. They say tasers are preferable to reaching for a club — as if death by taser is somehow a better death than a beating. They say it’s a favorable step down from a gun — as if we should, out of gratitude, applaud the use of a device to help curb their natural inclination to shoot us. I’m not saying there is no conceivable use for a taser but they are clearly being used too often, too aggressively and in situations that demonstrate a complete disregard for safety.

Something seems to happen when you introduce a taser into the equation. It seems to somehow act as a filter between the person using it and the person it’s used upon, removing the blame associated with a truly physical act and absolving them of responsibility — assuming, of course, the person using it is a cop. That’s a frightening effect for an instrument to have that’s so ripe for abuse and I’m led to wonder why that is the case.

I don’t want to reduce the death of any person to a talking point but at the same time this has to be talked about. Michael’s death came possibly decades too soon and at the hands of someone sworn to serve and protect him. The fact that once again an officer not only keeps her freedom but her job after killing someone in such a manner shows us how much consideration Fort Worth has for its actions. Unfortunately, it seems to be in keeping with the general social climate in forces across a country that allows officers to kill with impunity. He deserves better. This was not an unfortunate accident or an unpredictable reaction but the very foreseeable result of very excessive force. Officer Phillips violated policy and single handedly killed an unarmed man, and whether the result of intentional harm or carelessness, one person is directly responsible for the death of Michael Patrick Jacobs and will remain on duty without being disciplined. Something tells me that if I held an electric charge to someone for 49 seconds at a time , leading to his death, there would be an entirely different outcome — and rightly, my future would be changed drastically. This is apparently headed to the grand jury where I’m sure we can expect the standard measure of justice to be carried out.

For the record, he was diagnosed with multiple mental illnesses but that is intentionally not the focus here. He should not have been spared such treatment because he was “mentally ill” but because he was a human being, nor does his supposed illness excuse the actions (or inaction) of three police officers against an unarmed person.

October 23, 2009 at 12:03 am 3 comments

Iman Morales

Iman Morales

On September 24th, 2008 Iman Morales climbed naked out of his apartment window in Brooklyn, NY in a state of distress. He was in the midst of some sort of dispute with his mother. When he tried to get back inside by way of his neighbor’s window, she refused to let him in. The police were called. He climbed down the fire escape and then, upon their arrival, onto the narrow top of a roll-down security gate. His mother pleaded with the police to let her calm her son, but was refused and kept at a distance as the police tried to get Iman down and he became more agitated. He began waving a florescent light bulb at the officers, jabbing at one of them in the chest. At this point, at the order of Lt. Michael Pigott of the Emergency Services Unit, Iman, still standing on that narrow ledge ten feet high, was shot with a taser by officer Nicholas Marchesona. Having made no provisions to catch him or break his fall, several police and a crowd of onlookers watched as Iman’s body became rigid and paralyzed. He fell forward, head first onto the concrete below and died.

   What did they think was going to happen when they shot that charge into his body? Was he going to become calm and climb down smiling? The effects of a taser on the human body leave little to mystery. We know what they do and how the body responds. That’s why they are used. Tasers were only incorporated into more common use in the NYPD to curb their overactive trigger fingers in the first place and the use of the device in this event was in clear violation of department guidelines.This of course begs a few questions–How could one officer give the order to use a taser in this instance, another comply, and still others stand by allowing a man to fall predictably to his death?  Why were no provisions made to ensure a safe landing if they were going to use the device? Why was no one in the gathering crowd willing to tackle a cop to catch a falling man or better yet — to stop the device from being used in the first place? That of course would require them to drop their phones and stop taking pictures and videos.

City Councilman, Peter Vallone – chairman of the Public Safety Committee, of all things – said of the tragedy, “A situation like that is never going to end in a good way. The most important thing is that no innocent bystanders or police got hurt.” 

   In a dark turn to an already dark story, Lt. Pigott, on modified duty without his badge and gun, took his own life shortly after in order to keep his children from seeing him in handcuffs, according to a note he left. Not surprisingly, however,  the department said it was unlikely that he would have faced prosecution. His death then led to the spin machine telling the story of a hero officer who killed himself distraught over a tragic accident, reducing Iman Morales to a side note in a story about the pressures faced by police. I say this, not to diminish the loss of the Pigott family, but to restore a speck of balance to the telling of events.

   Regardless of what happened afterward, the end of Iman’s story is further evidence there is a climate of disregard for human life that needs to be addressed. It can be seen throughout our culture and is nowhere more evident than it is among that third class of people deemed mentally ill. People in power can make all the policy changes they want in the name of public relations, but it matters very little when policy is ignored and even less when policy is a sorry substitute for true moral character and respect for the lives others.


 It is worth noting that prior to that week he had been regarded by all accounts as “gentle and sweet” but was experiencing erratic behavior apparently in response to a new medication and subsequent withdrawal.

July 26, 2009 at 12:19 am 2 comments


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