TIME Texas

Texas Man Fatally Shot by Deputies Appeared to Hold a Knife, Sheriff Says

Deputies Shooting Texas
Bexar County Sheriff's Office/AP Gilbert Flores in an undated handout photo.

It's unknown whether investigators recovered a knife from the scene of shooting

(DALLAS) — A second video that captured Texas deputies fatally shooting a man whose hands were raised appears to show that he was holding a knife, a sheriff said Wednesday, declining to release the video because the investigation is ongoing.

Bexar County Sheriff Susan Pamerleau said at a news conference that the video has been forwarded to the Texas Department of Public Safety’s crime lab to see if it can be blown up and slowed down to establish the sequence of Friday’s events. Although it’s unclear from the video what 41-year-old Gilbert Flores may have been holding while facing deputies with his hands up outside of a home near San Antonio, investigators believe it was a knife, she said.

“There’s no doubt that what was shown in that video is of grave concern to all of us, but we also want to get this right,” Pamerleau said of the investigation. She declined to say whether investigators recovered a knife from the scene after the shooting.

A separate video of the shooting taken by a motorist and released publicly shows Flores raise his arms in apparent surrender and stand motionless just before the two deputies opened fire, killing him. A utility pole obscured one of his arms in that video, but Pamerleau said the second video, which was taken from a different angle, showed that both of Flores’ arms were raised when he was shot.

“We’re not drawing any conclusions at this point,” she said. “That would be inappropriate to do so.”

San Antonio attorney Thomas J. Henry, who is representing the Flores family, was not immediately available to respond to Pamerleau’s comments. But he told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the initial video appears to show that deadly force was unnecessary.

“From a lay perspective, seeing the video, it does appear the immediate danger is gone because he had both hands in the air,” Henry said. “Now there are other videos and other pieces of evidence that we want to gather.”

He said the family is considering filing a lawsuit to compel the authorities to turn over more evidence.

TIME justice

Brothers Awarded $750,000 Each After 30 Years of Wrongful Imprisonment

Brothers Pardoned Henry McCollum
Jonathan Drew—AP Henry McCollum holds a framed copy of his pardon before a hearing on compensation by the state for his wrongful conviction on Sept. 2, 2015 in Raleigh, N.C.

Henry McCollum and Leon Brown were wrongly convicted of raping and killing of an 11-year-old girl

(RALEIGH, N.C.) — Two North Carolina brothers were awarded $750,000 each in compensation Wednesday for the three decades they were wrongfully imprisoned in the killing of an 11-year-old girl.

Henry McCollum, 51, appeared calm as a North Carolina commission formally awarded the money to him and half brother Leon Brown, 47, during a hearing. Brown is in the hospital, suffering from health problems including post-traumatic stress disorder, the brothers’ lawyer said, and did not attend.

McCollum and Brown were released last September after a judge threw out their convictions, citing new DNA evidence that points to another man in the 1983 rape and killing of Sabrina Buie. McCollum had been the longest-serving inmate on North Carolina’s death row. Brown had been sentenced to life in prison.

McCollum, who has been living with his sister, said he is happy the money will enable him to support himself and help his family.

“My family, they have struggled for years and years,” he said. “It’s hard out there for them, and I want to help them.”

The governor pardoned the brothers in June, a step that made each eligible to receive $50,000 from the state for every year spent in prison, with a limit of $750,000. They can also receive educational benefits from the state.

Their attorney said the money will be put in a trust and invested so that the brothers can live off the earnings and won’t have to work.

In the months since their release, both men have had trouble adjusting to the outside world after spending most of their adult lives in prison. Money has been a problem, but McCollum has said the most important part of the pardon was having his name cleared.

McCollum listed some of the things he enjoys about freedom: “Being out here, to be able to breathe the air. To be able to walk around as a free man. To be able to walk down that street with my head up high.”

Sabrina’s body was found in a soybean field in rural Robeson County, cigarette butts, a beer can and two bloody sticks nearby. Defense attorneys have said the brothers were scared teenagers with low IQs when they were questioned by police and coerced into confessing. McCollum was 19, Brown 15.

The DNA from the cigarettes didn’t match Brown or McCollum, and fingerprints on the beer can weren’t theirs either. No physical evidence connects them to the crime, a prosecutor acknowledged last year.

Both men were initially given death sentences. In 1988, the state Supreme Court threw out their convictions and ordered new trials. McCollum was again sent to death row, while Brown was convicted of rape and sentenced to life.

The men’s sister, Geraldine Brown, said that she is happy for her brothers but that the pardon and compensation are bittersweet, considering that Leon Brown is “really sick” from his time in prison. She said he suffers mental problems including PTSD as well as diabetes.

“He did not go in that way,” she said. “They snatched him from my mother as a baby.”

Megaro sued Robeson County, the town where the killing happened, the sheriff and others on Monday in federal court on behalf of the men. The lawsuit said the men’s civil rights were violated and seeks unspecified damages.

TIME justice

Judge Declines to Drop Charges Against 6 Police Officers in Freddie Gray Case

baltimore trial freddie gray death
Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images A Baltimore City Sheriff's deputy gives instructions to journalists in front of the Baltimore City Circuit Courthouse East where pre-trial hearings will be held for six police officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray on Sept.2, 2015 in Baltimore.

(BALTIMORE) — A Baltimore judge on Wednesday refused to dismiss charges against six police officers in connection with the death of a black man from injuries he suffered while in custody. The judge also refused to remove the prosecutor in the case.

The death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray — who succumbed to injuries sustained after his arrest on April 12 — sparked protests, rioting and unrest that shook Baltimore for days. A demonstration Wednesday outside the Baltimore courtroom where a pretrial hearing on the charges took place attracted dozens, and resulted in just one arrest.

Defense attorneys failed to convince Circuit Judge Barry Williams that what they claimed was prosecutorial misconduct on the part of State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby was reason enough to drop the charges against the police officers — which range from second-degree assault to second-degree murder.

Williams ruled that while Mosby’s public comments regarding initial statements made by the officers to investigators were “troubling,” they were not likely to prejudice a jury.

Andrew Graham, an attorney representing Officer Caesar Goodson, unsuccessfully argued that Mosby’s comments after filing charges against the officers were “reckless and unprofessional,” and violated the rules of conduct. He likened Mosby’s comments on the case to a “pep rally calling for payback.”

Williams also ruled against another motion, one that sought to have Mosby removed from the case due to what the defense contended were conflicts of interest. He called the assertion that Mosby’s judgment was impacted by the fact that her husband Nick Mosby is a councilman in a district that experienced a disproportionate amount of violence “troubling and condescending.”

“Being married to a councilman is not a reason for recusal,” he said.

Williams added that allegations of prosecutorial misconduct would have to be addressed by the state Attorney Grievance Commission.

Prosecutors introduced two pieces of evidence on Wednesday: a police communication recorder of White’s dispatches on the day Gray was arrested, and the redacted statements White, Nero, Miller and Porter gave investigators. Goodson did not make a statement, and Rice’s attorney objected to any redaction. Those materials were placed under seal.

Officers Edward Nero, Garrett Miller, William Porter and Goodson, as well as Lt. Brian Rice and Sgt. Alicia White, face charges in Gray’s death, though they did not appear in court Wednesday.

All six are charged with second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office. Rice, Porter and White also face manslaughter charges, while Goodson faces an additional charge of second-degree “depraved-heart” murder.

After hearing arguments about whether the officers should be tried together or separately, Williams determined that each officer should get his or her own trial, siding with defense attorneys who argued that their clients would be prejudiced if their cases were joined.

Graham, Goodson’s lawyer, argued that his client — who faces the most serious charge — would face a great risk of “spillover effect and transference of guilt.”

Prosecutors wanted to try Goodson, Nero and White together. Prosecutor Jan Bledsoe argued that evidence to be introduced at trial was relevant to all three.

The Rev. Cortly “C.D.” Witherspoon, president of the Baltimore chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, praised the rulings that kept the cases alive and with Mosby running the prosecution.

“We wanted to make sure the indictments stuck,” he said.

Witherspoon said he wasn’t concerned that severing the cases will mean a longer wait until they are resolved, as long as the officers are tried in Baltimore.

“I think that sometimes when we’re too hasty we miss some stuff. I would prefer for us to take that time and ensure that we get it right.”

Legal experts say Williams’ decisions Wednesday suggest that the unwieldy and high-profile trial is, indeed, on track.

“It was an impressive day for the criminal justice system in Baltimore,” said Douglas Colbert, a professor at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law. Colbert added that the state’s passionate prosecution coupled with the defense’s thoughtful arguments showed “our city’s criminal justice system at its best: The lawyers were well-prepared, and the judge was ready to be decisive. Too often we see justice delayed, and I’m encouraged that matters are moving forward.”

Williams will hear arguments for a change of venue on Sept. 10.

Meanwhile outside the courtroom, dozens of protesters made their way about six blocks to the Inner Harbor before the pretrial hearing began. Dozens of officers responded and cleared protesters from the streets to keep traffic moving at the end of the morning rush hour.

Well-known activist Kwame Rose was arrested and charged with second-degree assault against a police officer, two counts of disorderly conduct and one count of making a false statement for blocking the road and ignoring warnings to return to the sidewalk.

___

Associated Press writers Matthew Barakat and Brian Witte contributed to this story.

 

TIME Texas

Texas County to Fund More Body Cameras After Video of Officer Shooting

Officials approved $1 million in new cameras following the fatal shooting of Gilbert Flores by two sheriff's deputies

Officials in Texas’ Bexar County voted Tuesday to fund additional body and dashboard cameras for uniformed officers following the release of video footage that purportedly shows sheriff’s deputies shooting and killing a Hispanic man in San Antonio after he had raised both his hands in an act of surrender.

Commissioners of Bexar County, where San Antonio is located, approved almost $1 million to fund hundreds of cameras, the New York Times reports. The county has had a body camera program in place for more than a year, but only eight officers, all of whom are motorcycle officers, wear them.

On Monday KSAT 12 News released a video of 41-year-old Gilbert Flores interacting with two deputies on Friday morning. Officials say the deputies were answering a domestic disturbance report and that Flores had injured a woman and an 18-month-old child when he resisted arrest. In the footage, Flores appears to raise his arms in surrender as the officers come near him but is later shot to the ground.

“I don’t understand why he was shot,” said Michael Thomas, who recorded the video and said Flores wasn’t making any threatening gestures. “Both of his hands were up.”

[New York Times]

 

TIME justice

First Hearing Begins in Death of Freddie Gray

Baltimore Police Death freddie gray
Kim Hairston—AP Members of the media stand in line to enter the Baltimore Circuit Court, as the first court hearing was set to begin in the case of six police officers criminally charged in the death of Freddie Gray, on Sept. 2, 2015 in Baltimore.

Freddie Gray died a week after suffering a critical spinal injury in custody

(BALTIMORE) — Protesters demonstrated outside Baltimore Circuit Court on Wednesday morning as the first court hearing was set to begin in the case of six police officers criminally charged in the death of Freddie Gray, a black man who died a week after suffering a critical spinal injury in custody.

As dozens of sheriff’s deputies patrolled the streets around the courthouse and journalists and observers lined up waiting for the courthouse to open, protesters carrying yellow signs with slogans including “Stop racism now” gathered outside. They chanted: “Indict, convict, send those killer cops to jail. The whole damn system is guilty as hell” and “Tell the truth and stop the lies, Freddie Gray didn’t have to die.”

Prosecutors and defense attorneys will present arguments at Wednesday’s hearing on three key issues: whether State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby should recuse herself, whether the officers should be tried separately, and whether charges should be dismissed.

The officers face charges that range from second-degree assault, a misdemeanor, to second-degree “depraved-heart” murder. Gray’s death led to protests in Baltimore, and a riot that prompted National Guard intervention and a city-wide curfew.

Protester Lee Paterson said he’s concerned charges could be dropped.

“You know, this whole thing is bigger than Freddie Gray,” Paterson said. “It’s about poverty.”

TIME Companies

Judge Lets Drivers’ Class Action Lawsuit Against Uber Go Forward

Uber
Eric Risberg—AP A man leaves the headquarters of Uber in San Francisco on Dec. 16, 2014.

The lawsuit could set a precedent that reshapes some of the world's most promising young companies

A California judge handed down an order on Tuesday that could spell big trouble for the on-demand economy. Northern District Court Judge Edward Chen determined that 160,000 current and former Uber drivers in the state could be treated as a class, which will allow a lawsuit against the company to go forward. At stake are questions about the future of jobs in America and potentially billions of dollars for one of the world’s fastest-growing companies.

The lawsuit alleges that those drivers were misclassified as independent contractors rather than employees, and that Uber has thus cheated them out of things that employees get under California law, like reimbursements for gas, worker’s compensation and other benefits. The lawsuit also claims that the company failed to pass on tips to the workers.

Chen said in his order the court will allow four named drivers to stand in for the whole lot as lawyers battle over their worker status and tips they may be owed. He denied their request to seek reimbursements for things like gas as a class—saying the four drivers might not be representing everyone’s best interest—but he also gave Shannon Liss-Riordan, the lawyer representing the drivers, 35 days to file arguments convincing him otherwise.

Uber itself has said that if the case doesn’t go in their favor, allowing them to keep treating drivers as contractors—which in turn allows them to avoid costly outlays ranging from payroll taxes to minimum wage—the company might be forced to change its entire business model. That kind of precedent could also send many other companies who have followed Uber’s lead rushing to revamp their business models, converting their booze deliverers or cleaners or handymen to employees. And it would likely influence judges overseeing more than a dozen other cases about the status of workers in the on-demand economy.

At a hearing in early August, Uber’s lawyers argued that their drivers are too diverse—and have such various relationships with the company—that they cannot reasonably be treated as one class. There is no such thing, they asserted, as a “typical” Uber driver. If that argument had prevailed, those 160,000 people would have been left to bring lawsuits on their own, a costly and time-consuming task most likely wouldn’t pursue.

But Chen said that the company was taking an impossible position: asserting on the one hand that all drivers are categorically contractors and then also asserting that they’re so wildly different that no court could treat them all the same. “Uber argues that individual issues with respect to each driver’s ‘unique’ relationship with Uber so predominate that this Court (unlike, apparently, Uber itself) cannot make a classwide determination,” Chen wrote.

A further conference regarding the case has been set for October 22.

Uber did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

 

TIME justice

California to End Unlimited Isolation of Gang Leaders in Prison

The state is moving to segregate only inmates who commit new crimes behind bars

(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) — California on Tuesday agreed to end its unlimited isolation of imprisoned gang leaders, restricting a practice that once kept hundreds of inmates in notorious segregation units for a decade or longer.

No other state keeps so many inmates segregated for so long, according to the Center for Constitutional Rights. The New York City-based nonprofit center represents inmates in a class-action federal lawsuit settled Tuesday on behalf of nearly 3,000 inmates held in segregation statewide.

The state is agreeing to segregate only inmates who commit new crimes behind bars and will no longer lock gang members in soundproofed, windowless cells solely to keep them from directing illegal activities by gang members.

“It will move California more into the mainstream of what other states are doing while still allowing us the ability to deal with people who are presenting problems within our system, but do so in a way where we rely less on the use of segregation,” Corrections and Rehabilitation Secretary Jeffrey Beard said in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press.

The conditions triggered intermittent hunger strikes by tens of thousands of inmates throughout the prison system in recent years. Yearslong segregation also drew criticism this summer from President Barack Obama and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy.

The lawsuit was initially filed in 2009 by two killers serving time in the security housing unit at Pelican Bay on California’s North Coast. By 2012, Todd Ashker and Danny Troxell were among 78 prisoners confined in Pelican Bay’s isolation unit for more than 20 years, though Troxell has since been moved to another prison. More than 500 had been in the unit for more than 10 years, though recent policy changes reduced that to 62 inmates isolated for a decade or longer as of late July.

The suit contended that isolating inmates in 80-square-foot cells for all but about 90 minutes each day amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

About half the nearly 3,000 inmates held in such units statewide are in solitary confinement. Inmates have no physical contact with visitors and are allowed only limited reading materials and communications with the outside world.

The settlement will limit how long inmates can spend in isolation, while creating “restricted custody” units for inmates who refuse to participate in rehabilitation programs or keep breaking prison rules.

They will also house those who might be in danger if they live with other inmates. For instance, 71-year-old Hugo Pinell was killed by fellow inmates in August just days after he was released from isolation, decades after he became infamous for his role in a failed 1971 San Quentin State Prison escape attempt that killed six.

Beard said the settlement expands on recent changes.

Officials have reduced the number of segregated inmates statewide from 4,153 in January 2012 to 2,858 currently. They are reviewing each inmate’s case to see if they can be transferred out of the segregation units or if they qualify for a program that lets them gradually earn their way out by behaving and avoiding gang activity.

Until recently, gang members could serve unlimited time in isolation. Under the settlement, they and other inmates can be segregated for up to five years for crimes committed in prison, though gang members can receive another two years in segregation.

Beard said the segregation system was adopted about 35 years ago after a series of slayings of inmates and guards and wasn’t reconsidered until recently because California corrections officials were consumed with other crises, including severe crowding.

“We probably had too many people locked up too long, because over 70 percent of the people that were reviewed were actually released, and we’ve had very, very few problems with those releases,” Beard said.

TIME Crime

Colorado Theater Shooter Sentenced to Life in Prison

James Holmes sentencing trial colorado
RJ Sangosti—AP James Holmes appears in court for the sentencing phase in his trial on Aug. 24, 2015, at Arapahoe County District Court in Centennial, Colo.

James Holmes killed 12 people and injured 70 others in the July 20, 2012 attack

(CENTENNIAL, Colo.) — Colorado theater shooter James Holmes was formally sentenced to life in prison without parole Wednesday, more than three years after he carefully planned and executed a merciless attack on hundreds of defenseless moviegoers who were watching a midnight Batman premiere.

Judge Carlos A. Samour Jr. had no other sentencing option after a jury earlier this month did not unanimously agree that Holmes should get the death penalty. The judge issued his sentence after two days of testimony from survivors of the attack, including first responders.

Holmes killed 12 people and injured 70 others in the July 20, 2012 ambush. He was convicted of first-degree murder and 140 counts of attempted first degree murder, as well as an explosives charge.

Colorado prisons officials will determine where Holmes will be incarcerated after an evaluation that includes his mental health. Holmes, who has been diagnosed with varying forms of schizophrenia, could wind up in the corrections department’s mental hospital, the 250-bed San Carlos Correctional Facility in Pueblo. He also could be transferred to an out-of-state prison.

Holmes moved from California to Colorado in 2011 and entered a prestigious postgraduate neuroscience program at the University of Colorado, Denver. But he dropped out after a year; by that time, he was well into planning the attack and stockpiling ammunition. He rigged his apartment to explode on the night of the attack, hoping to divert first responders from the Aurora theater. The homemade devices didn’t go off.

In July, the jury rejected Holmes’ insanity plea, finding he knew right from wrong. But it couldn’t unanimously agree on the death penalty, meaning Holmes automatically was sentenced to life in prison. Prosecutors subsequently said one juror refused to sentence Holmes to death, apparently swayed by defense arguments that he did not deserve execution because he does suffer mental illness.

To the end, Holmes’ state-appointed attorneys blamed the massacre on his schizophrenia and psychotic delusions. They said Holmes had been obsessed with the idea of mass killing since childhood, and he pursued neuroscience in an effort to find out what was wrong with his brain.

Prosecutors pointed both to Holmes’ elaborate planning for the attack and his refusal to divulge to anyone — family, friends, psychiatrists — that he was thinking, and planning, murder.

Holmes stockpiled guns and ammunition and mapped out the Aurora theater complex to determine which auditorium would allow for the most casualties. He even calculated police response times.

TIME center for public integrity

Lockheed Martin Nuclear Subsidiary Fined for Paying Lobbyists with Federal Funds

Nuclear Security Klotz
Susan Montoya Bryan—AP National Nuclear Security Administration Director Frank Klotz, center, listens to reporters' questions during a new conference at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, N.M., on Thursday, May 8, 2014.

The Sandia Corporation has agreed to reimburse the Energy Department after allegedly spending federal funds on lobbying instead of national security

A private corporation that operates a U.S. nuclear weapons laboratory agreed on Aug. 21 to pay the federal government $4.79 million to settle Justice Department allegations that it illegally used taxpayer money to lobby for an extension of its management contract.

The payment by the Sandia Corporation, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Lockheed Martin that operates Sandia National Laboratory in Albuquerque, resolved claims that the corporation violated two laws that bar such a use of federal funds.

It followed by nine months a restricted-access report by the Energy Department’s inspector general that accused Sandia of improperly trying to win a new contract without competition by lobbying senior Obama administration officials and key lawmakers with funds taken from its existing federal contract.

In his report, Inspector General Gregory Friedman described the company’s tactics as “highly problematic,” “inexplicable and unjustified,” and recommended that the Energy Department pursue reimbursement of the funds. A heavily-redacted copy of the report was obtained by The Center for Public Integrity in June under the Freedom of Information Act.

“The money allocated by Congress for the Sandia National Laboratories is designed to fund the important mission carried out by our national laboratories, not to lobby Congress for more funding,” Benjamin C. Mizer, chief of the Justice Department’s Civil Division, said in a six-paragraph news release late Friday announcing the settlement.

Sandia admitted no wrongdoing, the department’s release said, but a spokeswoman for the lab expressed the corporation’s regret in a statement. “At the time of the activities, Sandia believed our actions for a contract extension fell within allowable cost guidelines,” Heather Clark said. “However, in looking back at the activities, Sandia acted too early and too independently in planning for a possible contract extension.”

The settlement leaves open the door for the Justice Department to file criminal charges associated with the investigation, according to the eight-page formal agreement signed by representatives of Sandia and the Justice Department, which was obtained by the Center.

Sandia and Lockheed documents cited by Friedman described an extensive lobbying plan that targeted then-Energy Secretary Steven Chu, his family, friends and former colleagues at another nuclear lab, as well as key members of Congress. The effort, which occurred between 2008 and 2012 according to the Justice Department, was meant to block other companies from competing for a $2.4 billion a year contract to manage and operate Sandia National Laboratories. Its contract was set to expire in 2012.

The Justice Department barred Sandia Corporation from paying its multi-million dollar settlement and associated legal costs from its direct federal contract revenues. But Clark said the corporation planned to pay the fine from award fees – essentially bonuses for good performance – that it has previously received from the federal government. The amount represents 8 percent of the bonus payments Sandia Corporation received while the lobbying effort was under way, according to federal contract records.

Both sides agreed to the terms of the settlement “to avoid the delay, uncertainty, inconvenience and expense of litigation,” according to the formal settlement agreement.

Jay Coghlan, executive director of the nonprofit watchdog organization Nuclear Watch New Mexico, called the sum Sandia Corporation agreed to pay “a slap on the wrist.” He said “there should be criminal prosecutions for clear violations of federal anti-lobbying laws.”

Since 2012, Sandia Corporation has received a series of one-year contract extensions from the Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which oversees the production of U.S. nuclear warheads. In May, the NNSA issued a notice to prospective bidders that it plans to use a competitive process to decide who will run the laboratory after the corporation’s existing contract expires in 2017.

The troubles uncovered by the inspector general’s investigation could affect Sandia Corporation’s chances if it pursues a contract extension, according to Michelle Laver, spokeswoman for the NNSA. “Federal acquisition regulations require that past performance be looked at as part of any and all contract awards,” she said.

TIME society

Law Enforcement Should Learn To Recognize the Signs of Mental Illness

The Crisis Intervention Training teaches how to address mental illness matters in a health-oriented rather than enforcement manner

The untimely death of Sandra Bland in a rural Texas jail last month has led to many unanswered questions.

Texas prison authorities say Bland hanged herself with a plastic garbage bag in her cell, a claim her family has questioned. Many suspect that Bland was murdered by corrupt law enforcement officials or correctional officers.

Lost in the emotion of yet another tragic death of a young African American in police custody is the real possibility that untreated mental illness led to Sandra Bland’s death.

Regardless of what happened in that Texas jail, Centers for Disease Control data tell us that rates of suicide have seen a steady increase each year since 2000. Suicide is now the 10th leading cause of death among all Americans.

And, while African Americans have lower suicide rates relative to whites, the rate of suicide among African-American males and females has also been climbing each year since 2009.

As a mental health services researcher, I’ve spent years examining factors that prevent vulnerable youth from getting mental health services. My work as a psychotherapist has involved treating folks suffering from depression – folks like Sandra Bland who told police she had tried to commit suicide last year.

The importance of the social network

Sociologist Bernice Pescosolido suggests that mentally ill individuals don’t decide about getting treatment in a vacuum. Those closest to the individual are critical to facilitating entree into care, providing care or doing nothing.

Through my work, I have seen how serious mental illness such as chronic depression or bipolarity can wreak havoc on not just the ill individual, but also on their families and friends. In a sick individual’s social networks, accusations fly. Loved ones duck for cover or they hold back for fear of offending. At this unstable and vulnerable juncture, finding a way to treatment is difficult and staying in treatment is even tougher.

Depression is one of the most debilitating health issues anyone can experience. It is a leading cause of engagement in suicidal behaviors – a precursor, of sorts, to suicide.

At the same time, depression is one of the most successfully treated mental illnesses. Both talk therapies and psychotropic medications are replete with evidence of their successes in the treatment of depression.

The problem is that not enough people with depression actually receive treatment. The numbers vary widely by age and race. Approximately one third of youth with depression receive treatment. That number increases slightly – to about one half – for 20-somethings like Sandra Bland. The lack of care is even more disproportionate in ethnic minority communities relative to white communities. African Americans, Latino Americans and Asian Americans all have lower treatment rates.

My own research indicates these groups are also likely to have greater connections to their families and friends, who pray with them about their condition or offer advice. This might help explain their overall lower rates of suicide relative to whites.

Responsibility of law enforcement

While it is critical for social network members to both see and do something to help their loved ones get connected to treatment, it is equally critical for law enforcement to be trained on how to successfully address interactions with the mentally ill.

Imagine for a moment what would have happened if Sandra Bland had been pulled over by a police officer who was trained to recognize if she was suffering from a mental illness that required immediate attention. Imagine a police officer having the skills to engage Bland – or many others much like her – in a process of recovery.

That novel notion is being carried out by Dr Michael Compton and others who implement the Crisis Intervention Training, a program that trains law enforcement officials on the signs and symptoms of mental illness and how to address these matters in a health-oriented rather than enforcement manner. This program has helped police redirect countless individuals into mental health treatment instead of jails. Indeed, successful CIT programs have emerged all over the country, including in Memphis and Chicago.

The circumstances surrounding Sandra Bland’s death remain unclear. But many who are struggling with a mental illness surround us. Paying attention to the signs and having true engagement with the presenting behaviors can save lives.

This article originally appeared on The ConversationThe Conversation

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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