It's not as infuriating as the George Floyd murder by a Minneapolis police officer, but I'm still deeply bothered by a Salem police officer, Clinton Sealey, killing a suicidal man, Natzeryt Viertel.
Neighbors say that Viertel struggled with mental health issues. He was threatening to take his life. He had a gun.
That shouldn't be a death sentence. The Salem Police Department failed Viertel. He should have gotten help from the police, not bullets in his body.
Almost certainly Chief Womack and others in the department will find excuses for why Viertel was killed. But those excuses won't bring Viertel back to life.
A KATU News reporter asked a great question. Was a mental health crisis specialist called in by Salem police?
I could be wrong, but it appears from a Salem Reporter story that Officer Sealey shot Viertel prior to an attempt being made to defuse the situation by talking to Viertel.
Police said firefighters responded to the area about 5:15 p.m. on reports that the man had injured himself and “the man threatened them with a firearm.”
The man then confronted police officers “and an officer fired and hit him. Despite lifesaving attempts he was pronounced deceased at the scene,” the statement said.
Maybe Sealey had no alternative but to kill Viertel. That needs to be proven, though. I find it hard to believe that police officers had no options other than to shoot a suicidal man.
We need to learn exactly how Viertel "confronted" the officers. Did he verbally threaten them? Did he point his gun at them?
Neither of those actions justify killing Viertel if the officers had the option to withdraw behind their vehicles and make an attempt to talk to Viertel, hopefully with the aid of a Crisis Response mental health professional.
Back in 2012 Salem police killed a suicidal man armed with a gun after responding to a mental health call. A July 2020 KGW News follow-up story says:
On the night of October 21, 2012, police responded to a call for a welfare check at Chase’s Salem home, where he lived with his father. A friend had reported Chase was suicidal, under the influence of Xanax and had his father’s gun. He was also upset after having lost his wallet and cellphone.
When officers arrived, Chase wasn’t there. Police waited more than an hour until Chase came walking slowly, in the dark toward the home on Southeast Scenic Drive.
Salem police said Chase did not respond to officer commands to stop and show his hands. Police said an officer fired when Chase reached behind his back, and pulled out a gun.
He died at the scene.
A grand jury cleared the Salem police officer who shot and killed Chase of any criminal wrongdoing.
In a civil lawsuit, filed on behalf of Chase’s family, attorneys argued Salem officers did not identify themselves as police, nor did they give Chase time to respond to commands while blinding him with bright lights. Chase’s family was nearby and witnessed his death.
In 2016, the city of Salem settled the wrongful death lawsuit and agreed to pay $100,000.
As part of the settlement, the city promised to develop a protocol for dealing with family members of victims of officer-involved shooting, create a policy to deal with mental health issue and people in crisis, review and assess police response to suicide calls for the past five years and to expand its mobile crisis response teams and crisis outreach teams.
KGW’s review of current Salem Police Department policies and protocols, training instructions and internal memos obtained through public records requests indicates the agency fulfilled all but one of the requirements outlined in the settlement.
Four years after signing the agreement, Salem police still has not conducted a review of its response to suicide calls over the past five years and not presented a report of its finding to the Salem City Council, as required by the settlement.
“This wasn’t supposed to be an option for the city of Salem to do this,” said Hammer. “They signed on the dotted line that they were going to do this.”
Sure seems like the Salem Police Department has some explaining to do.
How is it that more than eight years after an armed suicidal man was killed by police, another armed suicidal man is killed in a similar fashion?
Doesn't the Salem Police Department learn from its mistakes? Apparently not. Here's how the KGW story starts out and ends.
Maria Hammer turns away when there’s graphic video of a police shooting on the news. She can’t watch. It’s too traumatic. A reminder of her brother’s death.
Chase Hammer, 27, of Salem was shot and killed by police on October 21, 2012, after officers responded to a mental health call.
"That was the start of our nightmare. And my life will never be the same,” said Hammer.
The Salem woman believes mental health should be part of the larger nationwide conversation about police reform.
“Do we defund? Do we dismantle?” asked Hammer, who believes her brother’s death could have been prevented if officers were better equipped to deal with crisis intervention.
“I’ll tell you, if there was funding for a mental health professional to be at that scene, we would have had a completely different result,” said Hammer.
A study published last year in the Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law found of the nearly 1,000 people shot by police officers in 2018, a quarter of those fatalities involved people with mental illness.
...Some mental health experts warn that sending traditional, uniformed police officers to calls involving severe suicidal thoughts or a deep mental crisis is not always the best solution. An armed officer could escalate the situation, sometimes with tragic results.
Hammer believes the current debate over police reform should include how mental health emergencies are handled and what training and resources are available to first responders.
“Police agencies as a whole have to self-reflect,” said Hammer. “What can we do better next time?”
Answer: a whole lot. Because the Salem Police Department just killed another suicidal person.