What went wrong in Roseville mental health police call?

We don’t know exactly what happened inside a Roseville apartment overnight where a man having a mental health crisis was shot to death after stabbing a police dog.

But based on the information provided so far, it’s worth discussing whether there’s a more effective way to respond to these situations.

Let’s take reporter Jon Collins’ story point by point.

Officers were called to an apartment building on the 1600 block of County Road B in Roseville at about 10 p.m. Wednesday because neighbors heard pounding, profanity and breaking glass coming from the man’s unit, according to a statement from department spokesperson Lt. Lorne Rosand.

Police say residents told officers that the man had a history of “mental outbursts.”

This is pretty critical information because it gets to why Minnesota established mental health crisis teams a few years ago. Here’s the description from the Minnesota Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness:

All too frequently, law enforcement or EMT’s are called to respond to mental health crises and they often lack the training and experience to effectively handle the situation. Mental health crisis teams have the training and know-how to help resolve mental health crises.

At last check, 57 of the 87 counties in Minnesota have mental health crisis teams. Ramsey County, in which Roseville is located, is one of those counties. Situations like this are the reason why it exists.

We don’t know if there was anyone else in the apartment, something that obviously would have been a concern to responding officers.

Officers asked the man in the apartment if he was alright. He replied that he was fine, but refused to open the door.

What happened next wasn’t at all likely to deescalate the situation, but may well have hinged on whether they thought someone else might have been in danger beside the man himself. The reasons for what happened next, however, suggest the man was probably alone.

Based on the night’s incidents, comments the man had made about being robbed and an active warrant in the name of the apartment’s resident for previously providing a false name to police, officers decided to force their way into the apartment, Rosand said.

Even more upsetting to a person already in a mental health crisis, a police dog was used. Now, they’re adding the noise and snarl to an already dangerous situation.

Entry was made and the apartment was searched. As the officers were searching the unit’s bedroom, the canine alerted to the room’s closet,” Rosand said in the statement. “When officers ordered the person in the closet to surrender, he opened the closet door and stabbed the canine in the head.”

This next paragraph is the one with all the questions.

Police officials say two officers fired at the man because they feared for their lives.

And perhaps they were in danger. We don’t know their position in the room relative to a man with a knife. We don’t know whether they could have slowly backed out of the apartment — admittedly leaving a police dog behind would be difficult — to protect themselves. We don’t know whether the man made a threatening move toward them from which they could not escape. We don’t know the extent to which they feared for their lives.

In short, we weren’t there.

That said, this remains a significant problem for law enforcement and the mentally ill. If you have a family member in crisis, you have to think twice before calling the police for help because you don’t know whether you’re setting in motion a chain of events that could lead to their death. It happens frequently.

I learned this first from a discussion with Mary Meyer, a Woodbury police officer on loan to the state when I talked to her for the 2004 MPR series examining the state’s mental health system that existed at the time.

Her brother suffered from a mental illness and police were called to her parents home one night in her early days as a cop.

“I heard the county get dispatched to my house. Thirty four year old man with his hands around a 57-year old woman,” she told me at the time. “It was my house. I asked the dispatcher for the cellphone of the responding officer and I said to the cop when I got on his cellphone, ‘Just please don’t kill him.'”

She acknowledged, however, that she knew that a cop killing her brother could be the only solution.

That’s when she decided she wanted to teach cops how to respond to situations involving the mentally ill.

I haven’t talked to her since then. But I think of her every time a person with a mental illness ends up dead.

I think of her a lot.

  • ec99

    And then there’s today’s story out of Fargo about an officer with an non-survivable wound and a dead assailant.

    • Yes, there is. We don’t know the story there either, although we do know there was a person in harm’s way of someone commitng domestic violence

      In regards to this one, however, I will point out that one of the aims of the crisis teams is to reduce injuries to responding police officers.

  • Jack Boardman

    A vexing issue to be sure; I’m certain there is no easy answer. I wish there were.

    • Veronica

      It seems like using these mental health teams needs to happen, so there’s an answer. Easy.

      • Jack Boardman

        I wish that would be the answer. I was a Psychiatric Technician at what was then Anoka State Hospital in the late sixties, and there was always the bright shiney object that would make a difference: Electro-Shock-Therapy, drug cocktails, counselling, etc. Shortly after I left, they began emptying-out the big institutions, confident that with drugs & counselling, mental illness could be controlled. The result, ultimately, was an increase the homeless wandering the streets. I like the idea of mental health teams, but I’m not sanguine about how effective that will be.

        • More effective than sending in the dogs and emptying the bullet chamber, I upset.

          • Jack Boardman

            Agreed.

  • 651-266-7900

    Call the crisis line for immediate mental health support, 24 hours a day.

    Crisis line staff might recommend a visit to Urgent Care for Adult Mental Health, or connect you with a mobile crisis team in your community.

    Metro Area Mental Health Crisis Lines:
    Anoka County 763-755-3801
    Carver/Scott Counties 952-442-7601
    Dakota County 952-891-7171
    Washington County 651-777-5222
    Ramsey County, Adults 651-266-7900
    Ramsey County, Children 651-774-7000
    Hennepin County, Adults 612-596-1223
    Hennepin County, Children 612-348-2233

    For children under the age of 18:
    Metro Children’s Crisis Response Services can help you, your child or a child you care about get through a mental health crisis. Children’s mobile crisis response teams can provide support by telephone and can also meet with you at school, home or in the community. Visit childcrisisresponsemn.org.

    • kevins

      Great info, great job Bob.

  • Gordon near Two Harbors

    What’s wrong with using dogs to help out in dangerous situations? Policing is already extremely dangerous work. The injured dog is strong evidence that this was another one of those dangerous situations. It has remained the case–for as long as there has been law enforcement–that when you put yourself in a situation where the safety of others is at stake, you may end up losing your life. Is this particular case sad and a tragedy? Yes it is. But, I certainly don’t think it was improper to shoot an individual who demonstrated his violence by knifing a police dog.

    • Yes, I think that is correct.Once they made the decision to escalate thee was only one way it was likely to end.

    • Angry Jonny

      Speaking for myself, I would view a snarling, barking, teeth baring German shepherd as a considerable threat to my own survival than a police officer with a gun. I can perhaps reason with an officer. I can inform them about my condition. All I can do with a dog is prepare to be mauled (flee) or grab whatever’s handy, like a knife, and defend myself (fight). At the risk of sounding like an uncaring arse (which I’m not, because I LOVED my dogs and cats, and rabbits, etc), the man stabbed at a dog, not the officers.

      I understand the rush of the emergency response. I’ve been a firefighter for almost 14 years. I get the same endogenous opioid dump whenever my pager goes off for a structure fire. I tend to think of the emotional well being of the property owners after the fact. Judgment moves into a different mode. But an emphasis of training is always about how to better size up a scene, how to respond more effectively, don’t use a 4.75″ hose line when a 1.5″ will do.

      There is a casual nature to the humor surrounding the potential for life-taking responses among the training night banter among police departments. It’s out there. I’ve seen it, I’ve heard it, and until a true understanding of what it means to others to carry an instrument of death in such a mundane fashion as a briefcase or other item of routine job duty, change is going to come painfully slowly.

  • L. Foonimin

    Back in the days of the Regan Administration many public mental health facilities were closed and the inhabitants were turned out into the streets. It was professed that the churches and private sector institutions would take care of the problem and it would save taxpayers money.

    That didn’t work out so well.

    So society now wants the police to take on the job, one more for which they are unprepared, under appreciated and under paid.

    I’m reminded of an incident several weeks ago in which a young women with a history of mental health issues sought help in a mental health clinic. She had to wait a long time and became more and more agitated. The mental health facility called the police because the women was waving a hammer around and out of control. During the incident the woman was shot and killed by the responding police. Remember this was inside a mental health facility … don’t tell me the police alone need to be better at dealing with all of the issues our society won’t or can’t deal with.

  • Postal Customer

    My only thought was, you don’t mess with Roseville police dogs. Somebody killed one a while back. Whether they should have shot this poor guy, and whether the officers’ lives were truly at risk, I can’t claim to know. But I do know that the minute the dog was threatened, the guy was as good as dead.

    • Well, I guess I would question what sort of thought process went into deciding to knock down the door of a guy who said he was fine, who was having a mental health crisis, when you knew he had mental health issues, all because he had a warrant for giving a false name to the cops in the past.

      What other options were there? What other options were discussed?

      That’s the possible point of failure here. That’s the point where a person may not have ended up dead.

      • Postal Customer

        Yeah, it would appear, based on the news reports, to anyone not in that apartment, that the police had itchy trigger fingers. But I did hear from your employer that the cops had visited his apartment “many times” — but for what?

        Next comes the “investigation” that exonerates the officers.

  • HaroldAMaio

    —-That said, this remains a significant problem for law enforcement and the
    mentally ill.

    —-That’s when she decided she wanted to teach cops how to respond to situations involving the mentally ill.

    “The” mentally ill? That view suggests a generic. We are far from it. The vast majority of us have interactions with law enforcement no different from other people.
    Many police departments are taking Crisis Intervention Training to prevent tragedies. It was instituted in Memphis (the Memphis Model) many year ago after what seemed a needless death. It is generally successful.

  • Christopher

    As someone who has a family member with schizophrenia, this story is disheartening. In the past, we’ve been told by mental healthcare professionals that the only way to get someone involuntarily checked in to a psychiatric unit is if it can be demonstrated that the person is “a danger to himself or others.” And the best way to demonstrate that, according to these professionals, is to call the police on that individual. And so, we have a system where the criminal justice system and the mental healthcare system are inseparable in cases where a mentally ill person is too unwell to realize that they need help.
    The false belief that people are stealing from you is a pretty typical sign of paranoid delusions. The officers claim to have known that this person suffered from those false beliefs. So, they either were not trained to make this connection, or they chose to escalate the situation (with the additional wildcard of the K9) knowing that the person they were dealing with was probably mentally ill.
    At any rate, this is another compelling example of the need for police body cameras. Why hasn’t this happened yet? Cameras would protect both innocent people that deal with officers and the officers themselves. The video produced could also make great training material to show officers positive examples of how to handle difficult crisis situations.