And without access to services suited for their needs, people with mental health issues end up clogging hospitals and medical centers. In 2008 alone, says Rosenblum, there were 118,000 avoidable emergency room visits by people with mental health issues.
“I have noticed an increase in psychiatric admissions,” says Cheryl Bilka, a nurse in the cardiac ward at Valley Hospital and Medical Center. “We’re seeing more and more patients who aren’t on their meds, probably because they can’t afford them.”
In June, Bilka admitted a man with obvious mental health issues. He refused to give up any personal belongings.
“He was hiding a pretty big knife,” Bilka says. “He pulled this knife, this switchblade, on me. He had to go to jail in shackles. He wasn’t a safe person to have around.
“It’s a growing problem,” Bilka continues. “Our hands are tied. What do we do with these people? Eastern State [Hospital] is full. Sacred Heart’s full. … It’s going to get worse until somebody gets hurt or killed.”
THE CLOSE CALL
Once, Ethan Corporon called his sister Tracy to say aliens were upstairs in his house and he had been trapped in the floor below for hours, sobbing.
Another time he told her that he was walking around his neighborhood in the middle of the night with a shotgun, trying to break into houses, because voices or aliens were telling him to do it. Recently, Ethan said his daughter, who lives with her grandparents, was communicating telepathically with him, telling him that someone was molesting her at day care.
The data research awaits approval of federal funds, which should be forthcoming by the end of the year, Pierce says.
Locally, civilian oversight and law enforcement transparency “is a long-term battle,” says local attorney Breean Beggs, who represents the family of Otto Zehm, the disabled janitor who died after a police confrontation in 2006.
Beggs points to an incident in Seattle in August when a police officer shot and killed a First Nations woodcarver who was crossing a street with a piece of wood and a pocket-knife with a three-inch blade.
“Look at the Seattle police chief. He came out and said, ‘We are going to take a look at this thing,’ and he didn’t blame anybody,” Beggs says.
Ron Baptiste, head of the Washington State Patrol, made a similar statement after a WSP detective shot a pregnant woman. The woman had been attempting to flee while the detective tried to serve drug warrants.
“The chief of the state patrol said, ‘We will do a full investigation and look into it,’” Beggs says.
Locally, he says, there is an atmosphere of defensiveness. For example, Beggs says, Sheriff Knezovich offered an explanation of how the WSP trooper may have fired accidentally — “It’s a proven fact that when you squeeze one hand, it just squeezes the other one” — while also noting no conclusions had been reached yet.
“His agency is doing the independent investigation,” Beggs says, noting a similar statement from Spokane Police spokeswoman Officer Jennifer DeRuwe after the Creach shooting.
“She says even if it’s an unmarked car, everyone knows it’s a police car,” Beggs says. “Why are you defensive? Especially when your agency is supposed to be doing the independent investigation?”
For his part, Tim Burns, Spokane’s new civilian ombudsman, has been quiet on the spate of shootings. His purview is limited to SPD, and even then, he adds, the role of his office is limited — he can’t get involved in criminal investigations. Eight to 10 months from now, when investigations into the shootings are completed, he can review them to see what lessons may be learned.
“No matter what we do, we put officers in a no-win situation,” Burns says. “I would suggest overall, they perform exceptionally well, based on their training and what they know at the time.
“I think one of the more important roles I play is to look at these things in-depth. And we are going to, as they become available,” he says.
In the meantime, Knezovich feels like he’s the only local leader talking about these issues. Prosecutor Steve Tucker isn’t, nor are many other elected officials. “I’m tired of being the lone voice,” the sheriff says.
Instead of the community thoughtfully discussing law enforcement, mental health and public safety, Knezovich says the conversation is dominated by those on the fringes: cop-haters and those who believe people in uniform can do no wrong.
“Frankly, there’s a culture here. It’s a culture of, ‘Don’t talk to the media’ … a bunker mentality,” he says. “The only people that talk about these issues are at the extremes.”
As the hour of the candlelight vigil approached, people began to shoulder together in the slippery parking lot of the Special K Tavern, the place where 34-year-old Jeremy Groom was shot and killed by Spokane Police on Dec. 4.
A gentle rain began to fall.
His family felt it important to return to the site and hold a vigil to let everyone know that while Groom died with a gun in his hands, he was not some violent thug.
“Jeremy was the kind of person who would give you the last shirt off his back,” his cousin Crystal Groom says. “He lived his life all about laughing and enjoying it.”
A Timeline of Police Shootings
Oct. 31, 2009 | Two Seattle police officers shot, one fatally; suspected shooter shot and wounded
According to The Seattle Times, Seattle police officers Timothy Brenton and Britt Sweeney were ambushed when somebody pulled up next to their patrol car and opened fire. According to KOMO, the suspected shooter, Christopher J. Monfort, 41, was shot by three Seattle detectives when he flashed a handgun.
Nov. 28, 2009 | Donald Lafavor shot and wounded by Spokane County Sheriff's deputies
According to the Spokesman-Review, while responding to a domestic violence complaint, Dep. Ryan Walter and Dep. Rustin Olson (see Oct. 24, 2010) fired a total of 11 rounds at Donald Lafavor, 65, after Lafavor had pointed a gun out the door. The deputies had not identified themselves as law enforcement.
Nov. 29, 2009 | Four police officers fatally shot; shooter Maurice Clemmons shot and killed two days later by a Seattle police officer
According to Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor, four Lakewood Police officers — Mark Renninger, Tina Griswold, Ronald Owens, and Greg Richards — were ambushed and killed in a Parkland coffee shop in Lakewood, Wash. Less than 48 hours later, according to the Seattle Times, the gunman, a 37-year-old mentally disturbed felon named Maurice Clemmons, was shot and killed by a Seattle police officer. Clemmons, the officer said, was armed, refused commands to stop and reached toward a gun before the officer fired.
Dec. 21, 2009 | Two Pierce County officers shot, one fatally; shooter David Crable shot and killed
According to the Seattle Times, Pierce County Sheriff Dep. Kent Mundell and Sgt. Nick Hausner were investigating a family violence call in Eatonville, Wash., when David Crable, 35, opened fire on the deputies as his 16-year-old daughter tried to pull away the gun. The deputies returned fire, killing Crable.
Dec. 27, 2009 | Michael Young shot and wounded by Spokane Sheriff’s deputies
According to KHQ, two deputies, Scott Bonney and Darell Stidham, surrounded the house of Michael Young, 55, who threatened to commit suicide with a semi-automatic pistol. When he started to raise his gun toward the deputies, they fired. According to KREM, Young doesn’t remember pointing the gun at the deputies. (He claims he was too drunk.) The shooting was ruled justified by the prosecutor’s office.
March 26, 2010 | Todd White shot and killed by a Spokane police officer
According to a Spokane sheriff’s office press release, officers Trevor Nollmeyer and Dion Mason were called to a neighborhood by reports that White, a 46-year-old felon, was carrying a gun. White fired four shots at officers from a semi-automatic laser-sighted gun. Nollmeyer returned fire, shooting White twice.
Aug. 25, 2010 | Wayne “Scott” Creach shot and killed by a Spokane sheriff’s deputy
In a recorded statement, Deputy Brian Hirzel says he was in his unmarked car investigating a report of prowling when he pulled into the parking lot near the greenhouse owned by Pastor Wayne “Scott” Creach. Hirzel says Creach approached him holding a gun. Hirzel says Creach refused to drop his gun, back up or get to the ground. Hirzel says he hit Creach in the knee with his baton, and when Creach reached for a gun, Hirzel shot him.
Sept. 16, 2010 | Sean Houlihan shot and wounded by Spokane County Sheriff’s deputies
According to KXLY, two Sheriff’s deputies, Thad Schultz and David Westlake, responded to reports of shots fired and found Sean Houlihan, 36, with a gun, which he refused to put down. The deputies shot and wounded him.
Sept. 24, 2010 | Keamia Powell shot and wounded by Washington State Patrol detective
According to Spokane County Sheriff press releases, Washington State Patrol detective Sgt. Lee Slemp, investigating crack cocaine suppliers, shot Keamia Powell, 24, in the shoulder. According to the Spokesman, Slemp said it was an accident. Powell, who was 39 weeks pregnant, gave birth shortly after being shot.
Oct. 24, 2010 | Quentin Dodd shot and killed by a Spokane Sheriff’s deputy
According to a Spokane Police press release, Quentin Dodd, a 50-year-old man had been threatening his roommates with a crude obsidian “knife.” Deputies Rustin Olson and Todd Miller confronted Dodd. The deputies say Dodd repeatedly screamed, “Shoot me”; threatened to stab the deputies; and then charged at Olson. Olson fired his weapon three times, killing Dodd. According to the Spokesman, a July police report taken after Dodd had tried to kill himself by laying on train tracks quoted Dodd as saying he “didn’t want to live anymore.”
Nov. 12, 2010 | Ethan Corporon shot and killed by six Spokane police officers
According to a Spokane sheriff’s office press release, six police officers responded reports of multiple shotgun rounds being fired at a home on West Buckeye Avenue. Officers halted the pickup truck of Ethan Corporon, 29, near the Shari’s restaurant at Monroe and Indiana. Corporon exited his truck while carrying a shotgun and refused to drop his weapon. When it looked like he was going to run into Shari’s, the officers fired a total of 26 shots at him. He died at the scene, of two gunshot wounds.
Dec. 4, 2010 | Jeremy Groom shot and killed by Spokane police officers
According to a Spokane County Sheriff’s press release, two Spokane police officers, Zac Storment and Chris Douville, responded to reports of an armed man at the Special K tavern in Hillyard. When police arrived, they found Groom pointing the gun at his friend, Robert Thompson Jr. The Spokesman quotes witnesses — including Thompson — saying that police shot Groom too quickly after asking him to drop the gun.
— Compiled by Daniel Walters
The Inlander is committed to exposing miscarriages of justice. Send tips and story ideas to injustice [at] inlander.com or call the news tip line at (509) 325-0634 ext. 264.