How a Visit to the Jury Box Might Have Been Prevented

I have been writing about the systems that serve our children and parents, and I think we are quick to criticize those who help keep us safe. Quite honestly, the professionals I have met are amazing people who have sacrificed to provide the best service to the clients in their care. However, I also want to note that we need to support them with relevant training and supervision so they can be mindful of key issues they would encounter in the midst of their very difficult jobs.

An ounce of prevention could save a lot more than money

Intervention could have prevented this arrest.
I thought about the time, energy, expense and the situational aspects of this case that could have been prevented if only a few interventions (and possibly some training) had been in place.

Recently, I had the opportunity to participate on one of our county juries in Pennsylvania. I should start by saying that my experience was a good one: organized, efficient, and professional. Potential jurors watched a training video to learn what would be expected. As I was selected to serve, I was treated cordially by the staff.

The case terminated early because the defendant entered a guilty plea which I thought led to a very good outcome for this defendant. Afterward, I was especially impressed that the judge came into the jury room to personally thank us, answer any questions we had then dismiss us. I really cannot envision a way that the judicial system could have worked any better in my county.

However, as I walked away I thought about details of the case. I also thought about the time, energy, expense and the situational aspects that could have been prevented if only a few interventions (and possibly some training) had been in place.

The incident began with a disturbance call to 911. 

When the officers showed up to the address called in, they found two people in front of the house. The officers checked them out then went to the house in question. 

At that time, an intoxicated young man stepped out and began to threaten the officers both verbally and with a dog attack until a screaming match of threats ensued.

Then the officers attempted to handcuff the individual. When the drunken man resisted, the officers were only able to secure one cuff before the man pushed one officer and ran. The other officer pursued the individual. He jumped over a fence to stop the man, and both fell to the ground. The officer had the wind knocked out of him while the man got up and ran again. 

A call went out that an officer was down. The officer who fell radioed to tell everyone he was injured but OK as several more officers arrived on the scene.

What was the man's brain state during the disturbance?
What was the man’s brain state during the disturbance?

Suddenly, the young man appeared about a block away. He screamed curses at the officers. Arms waving, he yelled about the officers shooting him. An officer in a car pulled forward and saw this individual walking towards him. He noticed a shiny object in the young man’s hand, and raised his gun while asking the individual to lay down. 

The officer and man walked toward each other with the young man continuing to scream obscenities and daring the officer to shoot him. The gun remained aimed, but the officer observed that what he thought might be a handcuff instead of a weapon.

At that time, the officer used his taser to apprehend the individual and place him under arrest. The man was charged with several crimes and was being tried in the county court system.

What might have prevented the incident?

Dismissed from jury service, I walked toward my car thinking about how the incident might have been prevented.

Did the family struggle with this young man and have nowhere to turn? I am sure his Mom must have been devastated about her son. She probably, at some point, would have wanted help for his varied issues, one of which was alcoholism. I also wonder what was going on within his family legacies. What could have changed if this family had opportunity to get counseling and receive positive help in their relationships?

In every incident, more than one person is affected.

I think about the officers who approached the scene. Were they aware of the young man’s brain state? Did they have the ability to de-escalate someone who was intoxicated and amygdala hijacked? Did they recognize that he needed time to calm? Or, that he was probably in a terrorized fight-or-flight place in the moment of their encounter? 

What was the brain state of the officer who was pointing his gun at this young man?   What has happened to him because of this incident, and how will it transfer and imprint to the next incident? 

And is a court hearing the full and accurate explanation? I understand that this individual was intoxicated, abusive and threatening. He needed to be subdued. But it sounds like what he really needed was a mental health evaluation and a drug and alcohol evaluation. In fact, this was a part of what the judge ordered in court. 

It seems that we would benefit by a system that includes as part of the court process—prior to any hearing—recognition of what really occurrs with those who appear before it. A pre-court process might have helped this young man and his family. 

Then I wonder if the evaluations ordered by the court will be conducted adequately and with the proper resources.

We could spend less money and resolve more long-term.

Maybe I am a bit of an idealist, but in light of what I know in dealing with a number of these kinds of cases, I really believe that if we had a system with available resources and training for the professionals involved, we would help more people and spend less.

Intervention can work.
I really believe that if we had a system with available resources and training for the professionals involved, we would help more and spend less.

If professionals (counselors, police, teachers, etc.) were trained in some of the more intricate skills of dealing with traumatized, angry and addicted people, we may spend less money, be more humane and resolve some difficulties without an overabundance of danger and angst. 

I realize that we cannot solve every problem with prevention. 

I also believe that we cannot allow violent and abusive people to threaten police and commit violent acts against citizens. 

Yet, as I experienced the legal system at work and thought through the incident with the lenses of prevention, I believe we can do better. I also believe that our public servants deserve the training that they need to be better prepared, more secure and protected. 

I  hope we can help those courageous professionals to be better equipped to face the dangers they encounter each day.  As well, we may be able to prevent some of the long-term, crippling consequences that our families and those they have impact face. 

Truly, it can be done with a little foresight and some changes in how we approach our systems. 

Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Networks

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