Oceanside Police Grossly Negligent in Responding to Suicidal Persons, says ACLU

August 7, 2008 12:00 am

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Chief and City Council Reject Family’s Efforts to Improve Suicide Response; Family and ACLU Urge Change in Procedures & Training

CONTACT: info@aclusandiego.org


“Grant, shut up and listen to me. Will you do that, keep your mouth shut? You need to come out of the house so other people can go home.” (1:36:40)

“Is that right, that they can’t be in their own house, because you are being stubborn and being a coward, instead of being enough of a man to come outside? Answer me. Answer me, Grant.” (1:37:55)

“Are you going to be a coward and stay in the house or are you going to be a man and come outside and take care of your problems?” (1:38:15)
— Oceanside Police Negotiator, 911 Transcript, pp 65-67.

Oceanside Police mishandled a crisis negotiation in a way that may well have contributed to the suicide of a young man Grant Sattaur, 20, on December 26, 2007, the family said today at a press conference and at a hearing of the San Diego County Board of Mental Health.

A recording and transcript of the telephone negotiation show that the police negotiator, an Oceanside police officer whose identity has not been released, rushed the young man, demeaned him with insults, yelled at him to shut up, and repeatedly sought to induce feelings of guilt. After two hours, Grant Sattaur, who was alone in the house, shot himself with a pistol.

The Oceanside Police Department is responsible for training its negotiators to ensure that they properly deal with severely depressed and suicidal individuals. The ACLU has identified numerous other failures in how Oceanside handled this situation and how it addresses critical incidents involving depressed people suffering from suicidal inclinations:

      • No one contacted Grant Sattaur’s parents despite having their cell phone numbers.

      • A licensed mental health professional from the Psychiatric Emergency Response Team (PERT) was on scene but not allowed to assist with the negotiation or coach the negotiator.

      • The Oceanside Police did not scale back its massive presence, but continued to point guns at the young man, causing him intense anxiety.

      • Oceanside Police policy treats suicidal persons the same as hostage-takers.

      • Oceanside Police crisis negotiators are required to attend only three courses, two on hostage negotiations and one on domestic violence. On-scene commanders are not required to receive any crisis negotiation or mental health training. The City of Oceanside has yet to confirm whether the negotiator and scene commander actually received that training and what its contents were.

      Grant’s parents Bill and Julie Hillestad attempted unsuccessfully to get the Oceanside Police Chief and City Council members to address the situation and improve police handling of suicides before there is another victim. Now, the family has enlisted the support of the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties in a public campaign to improve the Oceanside Police’s policies, training, and procedures.

      With the ACLU, the family is asking the mayor to meet with them and urging the city to improve its police policy, practices, and training. They ask other concerned parents and anyone who has known someone suffering from depression or mental health issues to contact City Council members. Public pressure is necessary, because the law effectively deprives victims of the right to sue municipalities for such negligence.

      The ACLU has issued a demand letter following the City of Oceanside’s failure to respond to a Public Records Act request seeking the identity of the negotiator and personnel on the scene. The City has also refused to provide information about the training and experience of the negotiator and scene commander.

      Since December 26, Bill and Julie Hillestad have sought answers and change from the Oceanside police chief Frank McCoy, city attorney John P. Mullen, mayor Jim Wood, and councilman Jack Feller. Although they all—except Mayor Wood—met with the Hillestads, none have fulfilled their promise to look into it and get back to the family.

      PERT responded to the parents’ inquiry stating that they are not permitted to participate in negotiations.

      Take Action: Urge Oceanside To Better Protect People Suffering from Depression: http://capwiz.com/aclusandiego/state/main/?state=CA&view

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