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What to Do When the Mentally Ill and Law Enforcement Collide?

Many would say that the first response is not to shoot the person if there does not appear to be an immediate threat. The recent police shooting and death of 21 year old Scout Schultz, a student at the Georgia Institute of Technology on Sept. 16 is an unfortunate example of what can happen when those two worlds collide. Schultz a troubled youth had gender identity issues , suffered from clinical depression and tried to hang himself in 2015. According to reports Schultz was on the campus late that night carrying a multitool which included a pocketknife and refused to drop it. He continued walking to the police shouting, “Shoot me!” and then one of them did.

When I first started working in a male medium security prison in 1987 as a medical physician I was surprised by the amount of mentally ill individuals behind bars and the lack of trained staff to deal with those patients. Reading about the Scout Schultz case reminded me of one of the first incidents I was exposed to behind bars. In the prison I worked in there were two fence lines with barbed wire. Officers were instructed to warn an inmate who climbed over the first fence line and if the inmate went for the second fence line he would be shot.

The instructions were clear, but what if you have a known mentally ill patient attempt it and there are staff on the other side of the fence line so he is indeed not truly an escape risk. Do you kill him on the fence? What if he was a known Alzheimer’s patient and still physically fit to get over the fence line. Would you shoot him?

I’m glad I was not in those types of situations where I had to make those decisions. For those of you who wonder what happened to that mentally ill patient all those years ago…. he suffered the same fate as Scout Schultz.

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