The Montgomery County Police Department in Bethesda, Maryland, conducted what they called a “wellness” or “welfare check” and broke into Chelsea Manning’s home with guns drawn. Fortunately, Manning was not home or else an encounter may have ended in death.
A Treatment Advocacy Center (TAC) study from December 2015 found “people with untreated mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed during a police encounter than other civilians approached or stopped by law enforcement.”
Manning has struggled and continues to struggle with mental health. She has had better access to mental health treatment since leaving prison.
The Intercept’s Micah Lee and Alice Speri reported Manning, who was released from Fort Leavenworth military prison in May 2017, on video from a security camera that showed an officer knocking on Manning’s door. After no response, the officer “popped” the lock.
Officers entered Manning’s home with guns drawn. A fourth officer pointed a Taser. But Manning was not home. She was not even in the United States.
As a friend told the Intercept, “If Chelsea had been home when these cops arrived with guns drawn, she would be dead.”
What happens if police decide to conduct another “wellness” check and she is home this time?
TAC estimated a “minimum of 1 in 4 fatal police encounters ends the life of an individual with severe mental illness.” This was based on real-time databases compiled by the Washington Post and the Guardian. (This remains the case in 2017.)
So far in 2018, the Post has documented 73 instances where police shot and killed individuals with mental illness.
Danny Thomas, a 35 year-old black man, was shot and killed on March 22, in Greenpoint, Texas. Officers saw Thomas acting “erratically” in an intersection. His sister said he had not been the same since his wife drowned their children in a bathtub and threw their bodies under a neighbor’s house.
Another black man, Shermichael Ezeff, was 31 years-old when officers from the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office shot and killed him on March 14. Ezeff approached an officer and was bleeding from his arm. Two days before he was killed, he went to the hospital for a “psychotic breakdown.”
These are a couple of examples of what can happen when police escalate a scene.
According to TAC, the Memphis Police Department developed a program in 1988 to train officers on dealing with individuals with mental illness. The training involved de-escalation tactics and became known as “Crisis Intervention Training” (CIT).
But officers have to want to engage in policing which focuses on identifying signs of mental illness or even disability.
Focus For Health noted, “The San Francisco Police Department, for example, has frequently made the news for their mishandling of interactions with those suffering from mental illness. Mario Woods, Matthew Hoffman, Teresa Sheehan, and Vinh “Tony” Bui all showed symptoms of mental illness when they were shot by the SFPD. That is why it is extremely ironic that the SFPD was an early adopter of CIT training.”
Often when someone is killed with mental health issues it goes entirely underreported or even unreported. Many contend that is deliberate to make it easier for police departments to justify the use of deadly force.
While in Leavenworth, Manning attempted to commit suicide twice. The U.S. Army punished her for her suicide attempt instead of helping her access mental health treatment.
She struggled with her gender identity, including the fact that the prison would not let her grow out her hair in prison. The Defense Department fought her when she requested hormone treatment that was medically necessary.
While in a Marine brig at Quantico, where she was confined in pretrial detention, she was subjected to cruel and inhuman treatment that amounted to torture. The officers in the brig used her mental health problems to justify isolation and inflicting further emotional distress.
“I’m dealing with a lot of loneliness and struggling to adjust to life,” Manning shared in March.
She tweeted a photo in May that showed her standing on a window ledge. It came after a tweet that said, “I’m not cut out for this world—I tried adapting to this world out here but I failed you—I couldn’t do this anymore.” They were deleted ten minutes later and friends indicated they were trying to help her.
According to the Intercept, her friends are in contact with her, and she needs space to heal.
The Army whistleblower was sentenced to military prison for 35 years. She was convicted of offenses stemming from her decision to provide WikiLeaks with over a half million U.S. government documents, which exposed war crimes, diplomatic misconduct, and other instances of wrongdoing and questionable acts by U.S. officials.