In Griffen case, the police get it right

If there’s an early hero in the still unfolding story of Everson Griffen, who appears to be suffering from significant mental health problems, it’s Minnetrista police officer Justin Thompson and his colleagues who appear to have enough knowledge about mental health issues to get him to a safe place.

That’s not always the way it is with the mentally ill and the police.

Far too often, requests for wellness checks go horribly wrong. Far too often, still, police fail to see the bigger picture. Too often, people end up dead.

Of the 14 Minnesotans shot and killed by police in 2016, six were in the throes of some kind of mental health crisis, MPR News’ Manda Lillie reported last year in her story about the need for police training on mental health issues.

But, based on reports, Thompson and Minnetrista police Sgt. Michael Kokesh teamed up for the sort of approach that mental health advocates around here have been pushing for years.

The police report indicates the Vikings had suspected mental health issues for several weeks, but other than banning Griffen from practice and sending him a letter, it wasn’t until they asked Minnetrista police for a wellness check that Griffen was able to get help.

That apparently includes a run-in with Minneapolis police at a hotel after Griffen reportedly threatened employees. The cops let him walk, having determined that he hadn’t committed a crime.

But threatening harm to oneself or others is one of the requirements for a police-ordered mental health “hold.” ESPN reports that the Saturday hotel incident was the first instance that Griffen invoked threats, saying a Vikings official said he hadn’t done so in the weeks of questionable behavior.

Outside Griffen’s home, officer Thompson was able to get Griffen to voluntarily agree to get help, but not before a scary scene ensued on the way to Fairview Southdale hospital. MPR News reports:

On the way to the hospital, however, Griffen got out of the ambulance and police found him walking along County Road 44 waving his hands in the air.

Medics told police some deer had crossed the road in front of the ambulance and Griffen had jumped up and told them he feared being shot. He later boarded the ambulance and rode the rest of the way to Fairview with a police escort.

That’s the point where these sorts of calls go wrong. That’s the point where police training can lead to a de-escalation of a volatile situation.

“He’s always been a really, really good model for us, and obviously he’s going through some tough times right now,”  Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said Tuesday of Griffen.

There’s at least one other really good model for his peers. He’s a cop in Minnetrista.

  • Jeff

    Agreed, but sort of have to wonder if he was some random person of color and not a football star if the result would be the same. It’s sad, I hope he gets the help he and his family needs, but then I think he’s in good hands.

    • Some departments are well trained and do this stuff all the time when it doesn’t merit news coverage. Some departments are not; they’re usually the ones who make the news.

      • Jenny

        I can personally vouch for the Cottage Grove PD. I have called them for several wellness checks for one of my family members and they have always handled him with kindness and respect. As for some of the facilities that he has been taken to for 72 hour holds, I cannot say the same thing. It’s incredibly frustrating to have one part of the system go so well only to turn around and have the caregivers in the hospitals treat him like a prisoner. I realize it’s all just a symptom of an overly taxed system and I hope that it gets better one day.

    • Mound/Minnetrista has an affluent tax base. It pays for nice things like schools and trained police. And I can only speculate that the Minnetrista PD as whole is less “jumpy” than an urban precinct. Not that their job isn’t dangerous, but it’s got to be a different gig than pulling a shift in N. MPLS.

  • KTFoley

    Well done, Minnetrista.

    It’s still unfolding. A lot of things can happen, and a lot of things can be the cause. But whether it turns out to be football-related brain trauma or something totally different, I hope we’ll come back here and talk about that too.

  • lindblomeagles

    Several communities and ethnic groups probably have stories to tell about a famous person they looked up to who succumbed to mental illness. For me, this story recalls two African American performers and one former Viking. Their names were Donny Hathaway, who, like Griffin, thought people were going to kill him and jumped out of a high rise hotel room just as he was making a come back; Phyllis Hyman who swallowed a bunch of pills to take her own life just hours before she was to perform with the Whispers at the Apollo Theatre, and Dimitrius Underwood, the Vikings first round pick in the 1999 NFL Draft. Although Underwood never played a down for the Vikings, he would try pro-football 3 times during his life. According to Wikipedia, not the most reliable source, coaches at Michigan State University knew he had mental illness and warned NFL teams Underwood was probably not able to do football professionally. Last known info Wikipedia has on Underwood was his incarceration into the Philadelphia Industrial Correctional Center in 2007. He was released in 2011.