A surveillance video reveals a disturbing scene in front of a hospital ER in North Carolina when a teen with apparent mental health issues was assaulted by the people who were called to help.
Jessica Long took her 16-year-old to the ER when she became worried about his mental health state. He was angry when they arrived and didn't want to be there, so Long asked the hospital security to help get him into the building so he could be seen.
Getting an angry teen who is in the midst of a mental health crisis to do something they don't want to do is definitely a challenge. However, what transpired after the security guard was unsuccessful in getting him to go in is completely unacceptable.
In the surveillance video, you can see the teen is agitated as they try to convince him to go into the hospital. He pushes his mother and resists attempts by the security guard to restrain him. The guard shoves the teen at one point, which seems more like an emotional reaction than a reasonable attempt to restrain him, but that's only the beginning.
After the teen appears to calm down, he is walked back to the car by another security officer. The teen tries to grab his mother's arm at one point, but other than that, appears unthreatening. We can't hear what he says, but we can see a security officer come up to him from behind and throw him on the ground so hard his mouth bleeds. For the next five minutes, the two security officers pin him to the ground, attempting to restrain him.
"I was in shock! I didn't know what to do," Long told WBTV. "I was just kind of helpless to do much of anything."
Again, this is a teen having a mental health episode, whose mother brought him to the hospital for help.
There is often gray area in videos of police interactions with the public. We can't always assess what kind of threat an officer perceives in the moment, but there are times when there's no reasonable explanation for an officer's actions. What happened next, after the police arrived, is one of those times.
After the boy was restrained and had his hands cuffed behind him, the security officers sat him up on the curb. As a sheriff's deputy leaned toward him, the teen spat bloody saliva at him.
Now obviously, spitting at a police officer is not okay. But let's remember, this is a teen who had been taken to the hospital because he was having a mental health crisis. And he had blood in his mouth because he had had his face shoved into the pavement by security.
The deputy responded to the spitting by immediately punching the teen—who had his hands tied behind him—in the face, twice. Other officers intervened quickly and pulled the overreacting deputy away to calm him down.
There's no way to spin what we see in the video as anything other than an officer losing control on a mentally ill teenager. But that didn't stop Lincoln County Sheriff Bill Beam from saying that the incident wasn't a problem.
"Deputy Polson had a reaction to a felonious assault," Beam said. "Spitting in a law enforcement officer's face—spitting blood in a law enforcement officer's —is a felonious assault and he had a right to stop that assault from occurring."
A WBTV reporter said,"Your deputy punched a 16-year-old with his hands handcuffed behind his back, twice. Is that an appropriate use of force?"
"All I saw was once and he was pushing him back away," Beam responded.
Umm, did he see the same video we did? (The news report above shows the assault, but the entire surveillance video can be viewed in its entirety in this WBTV article.)
An executive at the hospital, Maureen Swick, defended how the hospital security guards handled the situation.
"The actions that the officers took to keep others safe and to keep him safe were appropriate," Swick said.
The teen was arrested that night and charged with felony assault on a law enforcement officer and multiple misdemeanors. He was taken to the hospital by a mother who wanted to get him help, and he ended up juvenile detention for eight days.
"The people that I thought were going to help, they did nothing but make it worse," Long said.
There's obviously something wrong when a teen is taken to the hospital for mental health reasons and ends up being assaulted by a cop. We need to insist that people charged with protecting citizens are either screened or trained well enough to not lose their cool and assault a mentally ill minor for spitting. We need to invest more resources into mental health so that we can hopefully avoid situations like this to begin with, or know better how to handle a behavioral issue stemming from mental illness. And we definitely need to make sure that people are held accountable when they violate codes of conduct and use excessive force, especially when someone is clearly in need of help.
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