What can happen when the police are asked to respond to a mental health crisis in DC?

Photo of plywood painted with an illustration of a person with a red cross on their t-shirt handing out a bottle of water. Text is painted to say "Black Lives Matter to a medic."

Plywood used to board up buildings at the intersection where D was arrested have been covered in art. Photo by Eric Falquero

Editor’s Note: During the reporting process for this article, the full name of the man whose mental health and arrest history are discussed in detail here was revealed, which allowed for the review of dozens of public records. Because he was not interviewed and did not consent to sharing this information, Street Sense Media has chosen to refer to him using the nickname provided in an interview with his friend.

On June 20, 15 days after Mayor Muriel Bowser named a portion of 16th Street NW in front of the White House “Black Lives Matter Plaza,” a Black man who reportedly struggles with schizophrenia and homelessness was handcuffed and shackled by the ankles at the plaza. As he lay on the ground he yelled to bystanders for help. He was then carried by four Metropolitan Police Department officers who attempted to slide him into a squad car but, due to his attempts to resist and the way he was bound, the short man could not be forced into the back seat. 

“Ahhhh — they pulling me by the chains,” the man yelled as one MPD officer was leaning into the opposite side of the car where the man’s legs would have been on the seat. “He’s pulling me by the chains!”

The man was ultimately led to a van, Wagon 22, which left the plaza roughly 15 minutes after the arrest began. 

“First and foremost, he’s innocent. He has schizophrenia and he was obviously in an episode,” said Hussein Heshmat, who claimed to be the man’s friend of four years. “His shirt was off, he didn’t have no shoes, he was already starting a fight with somebody. And basically, for some reason in his brain, he was going to stop all media from doing what they wanted to do.”

The man in question, who goes by the nickname “D,” according to Heshmat, had been aggressively approaching a TV cameraman. A t-shirt vendor, whose tent was directly next to this interaction, said that D was carrying a stick, walking toward the cameraman, and holding his hand up in front of the lens of the camera and the man’s face. 

The t-shirt vendor said D was yelling at the man with the camera, repeating, “You don’t know who you’re dealing with, you don’t know who you’re dealing with!” The cameraman stepped behind the barriers used to block off the street for protestors and said “Get your hand out of my face,” but D continued toward him.

MPD declined the request for an interview to discuss the situation and said in a statement that “MPD members witnessed an assault that occurred.” The department has had a constant presence in the area since protesters first marched to the White House on May 29 to protest the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis.

“One of the cons to having the police block off this area and having such a large mass of people in one space is that D.C. has a very large homeless and a very large mentally-ill population that is really not taken care of,” said a 24-year-old volunteer medic who asked to remain anonymous. “We’re displacing a lot of these people who only have bus shelters and other [makeshift] homes.”

A count conducted in January found that 6,380 people were homeless in D.C. on a single night, 20% of whom had a history of mental illness. Six hundred and fifty-three of those counted were unsheltered on that night.

The medic said she had been on site nearly every day since the protests started 22 days prior. She described the environment as generally helpful for people experiencing homelessness, with an abundance of free food, water, masks, and people looking out for each other. But she said the police had been preventing people from sleeping in the bus shelters within the perimeter of the street closures for protesters. MPD was presented with this assertion but neither confirmed nor denied it in the department’s statement.

Many who attend the protests aren’t aware that some people in the crowd are experiencing homelessness or struggling with a mental illness, according to the volunteer medic. She said this means that when the police get called, the crowd only sees a Black man being put in cuffs. A Black man struggling. 
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Ahhhh — they pulling me by the chains! He’s pulling me by the chains!”

[/su_pullquote]“From a health care perspective, that’s something that we try not to do because when you restrain somebody, it makes them more aggressive. That’s an incredibly scary situation to be put in. I would fight back, too,” she said. “They need to bring in a healthcare professional to deescalate that situation.”

The medic said she offered to step in and talk to D, away from the crowd and officers, to “cool him off,” if the police could manage crowd control. She said the offer was “rejected.”
Heshmat, D’s friend, said the officers did take into account the medic’s assessment of D’s mental health. He told one of the first officers on the scene that D needed to see a doctor and didn’t need to go to jail. “[The officer]’s like, ‘I got you, I hear you,” Heshmat recalled. “I checked with the cops, like even further up the block. And [the second officer he spoke to] gave me the call that he was definitely at a hospital.”

While D was lying on the ground shackled, and again as he leaned part-way out of the police car the officers had tried to push him into, Heshmat could be heard shouting to D that he should calm down and not worry, that he needed help and was not going to jail.

“Shut up, shut the f*** up!” D yelled back. “I don’t even know you. Who are you?”

Heshmat said he planned to try to contact D’s family and friends to let them know where he was.

The police report does not indicate that D was taken to a hospital. There is no court case derived from this specific incident, so there is no sworn affidavit of the arresting officer’s account publicly available. If D was provided treatment from the Department of Behavioral Health, that information is private by law, according to DBH. The department did not make anyone available to be interviewed for this story but provided a brief statement. 

MPD’s statement said officers apprehended D and transported him to Central Cell Block, which is located at MPD’s Judiciary Square headquarters.

“Don’t believe what they’re telling you through the [arrest] process. They tell people what they want to hear to move them along. They’re never going to see them again,” said Joseph Scrofano, a criminal defense lawyer who has been practicing law in the District for 10 years, the first 4-5 of which he took court-appointed cases. Prior to that, he clerked in D.C. Superior Court for two years. Scrofano is not involved in any of D’s cases. 

D’s attorney did not respond to requests for comment.

Saturday is the worst day to be arrested, according to Scrofano. After a person is processed at an MPD district station, where they “sit in a cell for some hours, depending on the charges and depending on the person’s record,” the person is then taken to Central Cell Block to be detained until their arraignment at D.C. Superior Court the next day. Because court is not held on Sundays, a Saturday arrest guarantees two nights in Central Cell Block, which Scrofano describes as “a disgusting civil rights violation of a facility.” Local pastor Rev. Graylan Hagler led activists to protest the conditions in 2018 after being held in the facility for 28 hours after a civil disobedience arrest.

D’s full name and criminal case number for the June 20 incident appeared on the Monday, June 22 “lockup list,” a document sent to defense attorneys informing them of who was arrested since the last day of court and which cases they’re assigned.

The police report notes three charges against D. It states he assaulted an unknown member of the media, i.e., “Simple assault w/ personal weapons (hands / feet).” He was then stopped by the eight officers named in the report. At least 12 uniformed officers are visible on the video recording of the scene. 

The report says D pushed one officer while trying to avoid arrest, which is why his legs were shackled. Despite the shackles, the report says D managed to wrap his legs around a sergeant, causing the sergeant to fall. This led to the charge “Assault on a police officer w/ personal weapons (hands / feet).”

Both of those charges were recorded as having occurred at 800 16th Street NW. The third, “threat to kidnap or injure a person,” was listed as having occurred in Wagon 22, while D was in custody.

There are no court records attached to D’s name that indicate a criminal case was filed at that time. He was released on June 22 under the condition of a stay-away order related to the White House and surrounding streets, including Black Lives Matter plaza. 

More than 90% of defendants in the District of Columbia are released pretrial, according to a memo from the Pretrial Services Agency regarding fiscal year 2019 release rates. The agency recommends conditions of release for every person who will be charged in court by conducting a “risk assessment” that, the memo says, takes mental health and other factors into account.

According to the Superior Court website, some arrests may be “no papered,” where the prosecution chooses not to pursue charges in court. But the prosecutors would not use [mental health] as a basis to just not charge a case, Scrofano said.

“I’ve worked with [D] a number of times. He’s been arrested a number of times,” said the volunteer medic. “And because he’s mentally ill, what happens is he gets taken down to [detox], they give him 10 milligrams of Ativan for the day, and then he’s got no healthcare. There’s no system in place. He leaves and he comes back here, and it’s just a big cycle.”

Demonstrating a need for help


This cycle began for D on June 13, according to a sworn affidavit submitted to D.C. Superior Court by the arresting officer in a case then listed as United States v. John Doe. 

Around 8:30 p.m., D jumped over a temporary barrier at the south sidewalk of Lafayette Square park. He put his hands up and said to a Secret Service officer in full uniform, “Help me, help me, shoot me.”

The next 12 hours were spent finding a place to put him.

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“Help me,
help me,
shoot me.”

[/su_pullquote]He was handcuffed, at which point he repeatedly said “I can’t breathe” and “my head hurts.” A Secret Service certified EMT was called immediately. D refused medical attention. Like what was observed on June 20, he resisted being removed from the area and was carried by his underarms and forced by six USSS officers into a Secret Service vehicle. The medic was called again during this process because D “went limp and did not say a word.” One of the assisting officers, believing him unconscious, performed a “sternum rub” that D “responded to immediately,” causing the officers to believe he was feigning unconsciousness. D refused medical attention a second time.

From there, the Secret Service took him to MPD’s Second District. D refused to exit the vehicle and was forcibly “extracted” and moved to a processing cell. He said his wrist was injured and was “placed” back in the Secret Service vehicle by six officers and taken to Sibley Hospital.

Black and white photo, both officers are wearing PPE also. One is staring straight at the camera.
U.S. Park Police officers in riot gear form a line in Lafayette Square Park on Sunday, May 31. Photo by Benjamin Burgess

At the hospital, D again refused to exit the vehicle and was forcibly extracted by six officers. While there, he cursed at nurses, failed to comply with staff, and attempted to headbutt an officer. D was eventually medically cleared.

He was then shuttled back and forth across downtown as the Secret Service tried to have him detained by local authorities. 

First, he was taken to Central Cell Block, which rejected D because he “had no identifiers.” 

Next, he was transported back to MPD’s Second District, which “rejected [Defendant]1 because he was combative.” 

He was taken back to Central Cell Block, where authorities “still rejected D1 because he has no identifiers.” 

So he was taken back to Second District for electronic fingerprinting to identify him. But D was “belligerent” and “belligerent towards officers,” refusing to allow them to get his fingerprints and refusing to get back in the Secret Service vehicle. 

Four officers tried to put him in the vehicle but D “kept sticking his foot inside the door jamb of the vehicle and stating ‘Yes break it.’” He also repeatedly unbuckled his seat belt and said, “It’s going to be a lot harder than this, I can go all day.” 

It was around the time of this refusal to be fingerprinted that a mental health solution was considered. A wagon was called to transport D to the Psychiatric Institute of Washington. He refused to comply and five officers put him in the wagon and secured his seatbelt.

Photo of protesters in Lafayette Square
Protestors graffitied and set fire to a building at Lafayette Square before the White House grounds and the park were fenced off on June 2.  Photo courtesy of Benjamin Burgess

“During the drive to PIW, [Defendant]1 unbuckled his seat belt and was kicking and hitting his head on the inside of the transport vehicle and stating ‘You guys should’ve shot me down’ and ‘shoot me,’” the affidavit says. 

PIW refused to treat D “because there was no room for him.”

Around 9:15 a.m., an EMS vehicle arrived to transport D back to Sibley Hospital. He was in the hospital when this account was submitted for the court.

D received only one charge from the ordeal: unlawful entry of the White House grounds against the will of the U.S. government. He was released under the condition of a stay-away order that defined the White House Complex as the area bounded by K Street NW, 13th Street NW, Pennsylvania Ave NW, 12th Street NW, Constitution Ave NW, and 19th Street NW.

There are no court records associated with arrests prior to the June 20 incident Street Sense Media observed at Black Lives Matter Plaza.

Mental health, the police, and the courts


The volunteer medic at Black Lives Matter Plaza who tried to intervene and deescalate the situation on June 20 said she wished MPD officers received better mental health training.

The statement provided by the Department of Behavioral Health highlights a sustained commitment to such training. “[DBH], in partnership with MPD, trains patrol officers on how best to respond to calls for people whose behavior suggests a mental health disorder. The program is in its 11th year and has trained more than 1,100 MPD patrol officers called Crisis Intervention Officers.” Some of those officers have been lost to attrition over the years, due to retirement, resignation, or separation from the department. In its March 2 responses to D.C. Council performance oversight questions, MPD listed 3,796 sworn employees. The majority of sworn staff are officers or detectives, according to the department’s most recent annual report.

The CIO program has led to an overall decrease in individuals being arrested and an overall decrease in injuries to officers. In Fiscal Year 2017, 89% of incidents a CIO responded to resulted in no injuries. Eight percent of the time, the person being responded to was injured, down from 45-56% during the FY11-FY15 review period, according to DBH trend reports on the program. Most often, CIOs are performing crisis intervention on-scene and then transporting subjects for psychiatric evaluation. People were involuntarily transported for emergency psychiatric care more than twice as often as they volunteered to be transported and assessed.

Pie graph showing 55% FD-12/involuntary Admissions, 18% voluntary admissions, and 18% not applicable.
Chart from the  FY 2014 – 17 Crisis Intervention Officer program trends report. Courtesy of the D.C. Department of Behavioral Health

To become a Crisis Intervention Officer, law enforcement must partake in 40 hours of training in areas like conflict de-escalation and mental illness education. DBH provides CIO training to additional agencies, such as the Secret Service, the D.C. Housing Authority Police, and WMATA’s Metro Transit Police. 

In a 2018 report published by the Office of the D.C. Auditor, CIOs reported that disorderly or disruptive conduct made up almost half of the calls to which they responded between 2009 and 2016. Respondents also reported being met with “Hostile/uncooperative” behavior most of the time when responding to a call.

[Disclosure: Street Sense Media has conducted paid research and writing for the auditor’s office]

“Many communities continue to face pervasive gaps in mental health services, especially crisis services, placing a heavy burden on law enforcement agencies and, in particular, officers,” according to a 2019 Council of State Governments Justice Center report. “Without access to appropriate alternatives, officers are often left with a set of poor choices: leave people in potentially harmful situations, bring them to hospital emergency departments, or arrest them.”

The audit of DBH indicated the CIO program in itself was not adequate in serving members of the community experiencing mental health crises. While it has been “effective in connecting people with emergency psychiatric treatment,” the services that officers can provide do not stretch far beyond those available during the crisis period. In practice, this looks like an officer connecting a person with emergency treatment, but not with a program that will provide a more comprehensive, personalized treatment plan. Between 2011 and 2016, CIOs referred only 4% of individuals with whom they interacted to case management offered by DBH.

The CIO program is not DBH’s only collaboration with law enforcement or the court system. There are multiple points pre- and post-arrest when a person may be connected to mental health services and potentially diverted away from the criminal justice system. D.C. has been wrestling with how best to navigate the overlap between these systems in a piecemeal fashion.

Graphic showing three circles overlapping, each labeled Criminal Justice, Crisis and Health Care Services, and Housing Services. It reads "What can law enforcement leaders do?" Answer: Step 1: Identify people in your community who are high utilizers; Step 2: Develop alternate response options; Step 3: Establish clear policies and procdedures for encounters; Step 4: Reveiw performance regulary
A one-pager published by the Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Program in December 2019. Graphic courtesy of the U.S. Bureau of Justice Assistance

The department provides emergency psychiatric services in response to an acute need. It also provides a number of ongoing behavioral health services — including therapy, case management for linkage to other services, and medication — to clients of its Core Service Agencies (CSA). The audit characterized CSAs as “small to mid-sized, mostly nonprofit community mental health clinics” contracted by DBH. In the five years leading up to the audit, some CSAs had cut back on services, particularly those affecting “justice-involved consumers.”

Most emergency services fall under The Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Program (CPEP), which oversees 24/7 emergency mental health services and the Mobile Crisis/Homeless Outreach branch. CPEP staff and those working at local hospitals told the audit report’s authors they can handle involuntary transports of those experiencing mental health crises; however, DBH staff acknowledged that CIOs and hospital staff are “not the most adept at linking someone to ongoing services at a Core Service Agency (CSA) or another provider.”

[Read more: MPD takes no chances with a homeless man near Farragut Square]

This leads to people being referred to the psychiatric emergency system more often than is needed, resulting in an overflow of patients, and higher likelihood of repeat transfers but no more permanent solutions. Evidence also suggests that if CIO officers were more equipped to link people with long term or ongoing care and support, hospitals would not experience quite the overflow of patients in their emergency systems.

In 2017, the District was awarded a competitive U.S. Department of Justice grant to define the District’s “super-utilizer” population of “individuals with mental illness and co-occurring substance abuse disorders who repeatedly cycle through multiple service systems.” The Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Program grant brought six agencies together to share data and identify people who were dependent on these services, but not best served by them: DBH, MPD, the Department of Corrections, Fire and Emergency Management System, the Office of Unified Communications and the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council.

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Between 2011 and 2016, CIOs referred only 4% of individuals with whom they interacted to case management offered by DBH.

[/su_pullquote]While acknowledging the promise of this collaboration, the audit report concluded D.C. “does not yet have robust programs and policies in place” to prepare law enforcement officers to identify and aid individuals experiencing mental health crises. This leads to the unnecessary criminalization of already vulnerable populations in place of offering concrete behavioral health services. An unnamed judge is quoted in the report as saying “D.C. is far, far behind on the [pre-arrest diversion] in place in other jurisdictions.”

The program was predated by the now-defunct Frequent Users Service Enhancement pilot program in 2010, a collaboration between the Department of Corrections and the Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness.

The same year the audit report was published, DBH and MPD also began a $1 million pilot program for a mental health pre-arrest diversion service, which was required by the Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results Amendment Act of 2016. It is a holistic approach intended to “support individuals in crisis due to problems associated with substance abuse, mental health, and homelessness,” and seeks to reduce repeat arrests of individuals struggling with severe mental health disorders. If successful, the program will also “free up” law enforcement officers, allowing them to focus on addressing more violent crimes.

A visualization of the MPD pre-arrest diversion program workflow. Courtesy of the Metropolitan Police Department

The NEAR Act stipulates that MPD coordinate with the DBH and the Department of Human Services to pair mental and behavioral health clinicians and outreach specialists with MPD officers in teams, in order to immediately identify individuals in need of assistance and connect those who may be impacted by homelessness, mental illness, or substance abuse, with available services. MPD and DHS were expected to rely on existing officers, while DBH was allotted near $1 million to staff the program. 

In the summer of 2018, 69 MPD officers in the areas targeted by the pilot program participated in training designed to familiarize them with program goals and opportunities and processes for referrals. Each new class of CIOs is also briefed on the program and encouraged to contact an MPD supervisor if they encounter someone that may be eligible, according to an overview of the program submitted to D.C. Council as part of this year’s budget oversight.

Participants are offered the chance to meet with a mental health professional the same day. Within three days, the individual and the mental health professional will have collaborated on a plan regarding what services are needed and can be offered. After 90 days an individual will be reevaluated and after 180 days they will graduate from the program.

As of Dec. 31, 2018, 83 people had accepted the pre-arrest diversion option, 95% of whom had been diagnosed with severe mental illness and 95% of whom had unstable housing.

Some of the instances when a person is eligible for pre-arrest diversion to mental health assistance are “if an individual is known to MPD to have ongoing behavioral health concerns that present risks to the community but is not at a crisis level” or when an “individual commits an eligible arrest and an MPD officer offers diversion instead of arrest.”

Bar chart showing what types of behaviors were responded to most by CIOs. Sucide Threat/Attempt: 39%' Depressed: 38%; Hostile/Agrressive: 36%; Disoriented/Confused: 26%, all aothers lower.
Chart from the FY 2014 – 17 Crisis Intervention Officer program trends report. Courtesy of the D.C. Department of Behavioral Health

“If an individual is known by MPD to have a criminal history and behavioral health challenges, an officer should not have to wait to witness the individual committing a crime to make a referral,” according to the program overview. “Therefore an officer can engage the individual to encourage participation in the program.”

However, if the person declines to participate, the arrest proceeds. 

The same is true for post-arrest diversion options in the judicial system.

The D.C. Superior Court Mental Health Community Court seeks to integrate community resources to meet the unique needs of persons with mental illness in the court system, according to a 2016 analysis of super-utilizers in D.C. Participation is voluntary and eligibility excludes domestic violence cases, violent felonies, and gun convictions. To be clinically eligible, a person must have a severe mental health diagnosis, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. People with a co-occuring substance abuse disorder may be accepted if they agree to cooperate with drug testing and treatment.

Mental health court is a good program, if you can get your client approved by the Pretrial Services Agency and the U.S. Attorney’s office, according to Scorfano. “It’s a very good program. If the person complies with the treatment, it can do wonders. Back when I used to routinely practice in there, the judge would come down from the bench to do a graduation ceremony, present a certificate, and shake the graduate’s hand. It was very moving.”

Once in the court system, to be sent somewhere to receive treatment, like the District’s public psychiatric hospital, St. Elizabeths Hospital, the person must be deemed “incompetent.” You can have a client who has severe mental health issues, but if they know who you are, that you’re their lawyer, or at least if there are no findings that they’re not competent, they go through the same system as everyone else, Scrofano said.

I had a few clients over the years where they just kept getting arrested over and over again,” Scrofano said. “Then they get held. If you’re lucky, you can get them over to St. Es. If you’re not, then they sit in jail. And hopefully you can get it diverted.”

If someone is deemed incompetent, they are not simply referred to St. Elizabeths for treatment. They are prescribed a treatment plan to bring them up to a minimal level of competency. According to Scrofano, a common scenario is when someone is held for a nonviolent charge that would merit only a few days in jail, the prosecutor’s office sends the person for a 30-day, 50-day, or 100-day cycle of competency treatment at St. Es instead of dismissing it.

“There are definitely repeat individuals in this space,” Scrofano said. “In my experience, there’s not much sympathy in the prosecutor’s office.”

Chart from the FY 2011 – 15 Crisis Intervention Officer program trends report. Courtesy of the D.C. Department of Behavioral Health

According to the 2018 DBH audit, “judges at the D.C. Superior Court ordered DBH, on several occasions throughout the latter half of 2017, to appear to explain why defendants were being waitlisted at the D.C. Jail for admission to SEH. The waitlist and the defendants’ subsequent detention at the jail, the judges explained, violated court orders for admission to SEH and resulted in the unlawful detention of the people with mental illness. They went on to explain how the waitlist subsequently delayed a person’s ability to be evaluated within the 30-day statutory requirement. It was not until the judges threatened to hold DBH in contempt that the agency made changes to reduce admission wait time drastically (for pre-trial defendants) and implement a short-term jail-based competency restoration program.”

DBH also operates a jail diversion program for people with serious mental illnesses at risk of arrest. N Street Village has a contract with DBH to spearhead the program. A national survey by the Treatment Advocacy Center found that state prisons and county jails hold as many as 10 times more people with serious mental illness than state psychiatric hospitals do.

And many individuals with mental health needs are not identified. About 33% of adult D.C. residents arrested during June 2008 had some indication of mental health need in partner agency records, according to a Vera Institute of Justice report. Many others arrested with mental health needs were not known to community mental health care providers. D.C. Jail intake data from one month in 2014 showed that 14% — 142 of 992 people — were diagnosed as mentally ill or severely mentally ill.

When someone is released from jail or prison, DBH staff are supposed to link them to Core Service Agencies. However, DBH does not track those linkages to determine whether that person continues to receive service after their initial appointments, according to the 2018 audit. “Once in the community, DBH has no long-term follow-up plan tailored to justice-involved consumers’ unique needs, nor an assessable outcome or quality of care analysis specific to the population,” the report says.

D’s arrests at Black Lives Matter Plaza account for four of the 470 “unrest-related arrests” MPD had tracked as of July 17. Before the four open cases accumulated over the past month, court records show D was involved in 17 other closed cases in the District. The most recent was in 2018. The first was filed in 2013, the day after D turned 19. 

Except for one case centered around an assault against a police officer, each was nonviolent. The charges included unlawful entry after a stay-away-order, failure to pay Metro fare, and not appearing for court. 

The court docket for his first case, in 2013, shows that D was transferred to diversion court but did not adhere to the treatment requirements and was placed back in the regular court system.

[Read more: Only people, dedicated people, have filled the cracks in DC’s mental health system]

“The multitude of social problems facing many people with serious mental illness also increases their risk of justice involvement,” according to a study published in the April 2020 edition of the  American Psychiatric Association’s monthly journal. “Social problems of poverty, homelessness, unemployment, and low educational attainment accompany serious mental illness. An increasing number of researchers and advocates point to poverty as a key driver of justice involvement for people with and without serious mental illness.” 

Mayor Bowser’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2021 included a 7.7% decrease — about $25 million less — in funds allocated to the Department of Behavioral Health. This included a decrease of $32,000 for Adult Behavioral Health Services. But, every program contained within CPEP sees a proposed increase in funding. As was the case for the past two years, there is no change to the amount of funding recommended for Homeless Outreach / Mobile Crisis services.

Graph showing 68-73% of subjects responded to by Crisis Intervention Officer identified as Black or African-American in fiscal year 2017. 17-19% identified as White.
Chart from the FY 2014 – 17 Crisis Intervention Officer program trends report. Courtesy of the D.C. Department of Behavioral Health

D.C. Council reappropriated $15 million from a proposed increase to MPD’s budget in response to the public outcry to “defund police” in the wake of the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and many other unarmed Black Americans. The department’s budget would still increase, but Police Chief Peter Newsham told The Washington Post the reduction in new funds would lead to “a hiring freeze that could reduce the 3,800-member force by 200 officers or more.” The council’s summary of its edits to the budget says $9.67 million and 50 full-time-equivalent employees were reallocated from MPD to agencies and programs doing violence interruption and prevention, restorative justice, and victim service work.

[Read More: Approaching the FY2018 budget, Ward 7 Councilmember Gray criticized a ‘3-year pattern of disinvestment in behavioral health services’]

The council invested $9.5 million “to reverse the Mayor’s cuts to the Behavioral Health rehabilitation program at the Department of Behavioral Health,” according to the summary. “This will allow local behavioral health providers to continue to serve both Medicaid and non-Medicaid District residents who receive mental health rehabilitation services.”

The council’s final vote on the budget is scheduled for Tuesday, July 21. When approved, the budget support act will go before Mayor Bowser for her signature before being transmitted to Congress for final approval.

A compounding cycle


After D’s release on Monday, June 22, he was arrested again the next day, back in the protest zone around the White House. D.C. had just entered Phase 2 of reopening from the COVID-19 stay-at-home order, and Mayor Muriel Bowser wanted H Street NW reopened, too. That morning, MPD forced people out of an encampment that had been operating on the sidewalk next to St. John’s Church and extended into the street. Tents and canopies, including a pop-up restaurant for demonstrators, had occupied the space for weeks.

A man in the crowd the previous Saturday told Street Sense Media that city officials had been pressuring them to leave for several days. But a person working the pop-up grill told DCist that police had not given demonstrators a chance to collect their belongings before forcing them out.

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The court docket for his first case, in 2013, shows that D was transferred to diversion court but did not adhere to the treatment requirements and was placed back in the regular court system.

[/su_pullquote]According to an affidavit associated with a court case tied to this arrest, D “made multiple statements and advances on the police line … provok[ing] them in an attempt to get a retaliatory response.” As three civil disturbance units lined up to move protestors out of the block, D brandished a metal chair threateningly and was sprayed with “a chemical irritant” to prevent him from striking an officer after he ignored multiple requests to put the chair down.

“Come out here and I’ll whoop your b*** a**!” he yelled at one specific sergeant. “I’ll f*** you in the a**!” 

D was arrested and charged with “attempted threat” for that incident. He was also charged with contempt for violating a stay-away order. A single assault charge for the Saturday arrest was also filed, for assaulting and threatening John Doe. “It should be noted that officers and the command staff knew that [D] was arrested a couple days prior for an Assault on A Police Officer and Simple Assault where he was given a court-ordered stay-away as a condition of release,” the affidavit says. 

Seven days later, on Thursday, July 2, D was again charged with assaulting an officer, resisting arrest, and contempt for violating the stay-away order associated with his June 23 arrest. 

Again, or still, without a shirt, D had been the target of a “lookout” for violating the stay-away order and entering the protest area near the White House.

Plywood used to board up buildings at the intersection where D was arrested have been covered in art. Photo by Eric Falquero

A uniformed officer in an unmarked van observed him talking on 16th Street NW, within the borders of the White House complex he had been ordered away from twice before. After being seen speaking to a lieutenant, D walked north toward K Street NW, where he would have exited the White House Complex, but he reversed course and began walking south, deeper into the area. When officers approached D to stop him, he began actively running away from them. At this point, the officer who had been in the unmarked van made “a solo tactical takedown.” From there, the scene looked much like D’s three previous arrests: D refused to walk on his own, was carried by multiple officers, and was put into the back of a van to be transported. 

He was arraigned and released the next day with another pre-trial stay-away order filed. At this point, D has seven charges filed against him across three separate pending misdemeanor cases, each set for a first status hearing on the same day in mid-September. Each also includes a separate stay-away order for the White House and the surrounding area.

He has mental health issues, so he may not be incompetent but he may not fully grasp or have impulse control,” Scrofano, the criminal defense attorney, wrote in an email after seeing D’s cases. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office abuses these stay-away orders to trap people and set them up for failure.”

The next day, another Saturday and the Fourth of July holiday, D was arrested again for being observed within the area of the stay-away order. News2Share tweeted that “bike police crowded around and arrested a man seemingly randomly. They picked him up and carried him handcuffed as a crowd followed and tried to film.” In a video shared with the tweet, D can be heard repeating, “Don’t let them leave with me!” as he is carried by officers. At least 14 officers can be seen in the video. 

While he is not reported to have been violent or aggressive before his apprehension, having been targeted only for returning to the area outlined in his stay-away orders, D resisted arrest. He bit one of the officers carrying him on the thigh, breaking the skin and causing swelling. Once he had been placed in the back of an MPD wagon, D attacked an officer who was in the rear of the wagon with him, kicked the officer in the right knee and headbutted him near his left eye. “B****, I’ll beat the sh** out of you!” and “I’ll f***ing kill you, b****!” D said during the altercation. The officer was transported by ambulance to Washington Hospital Center for immediate medical treatment. 

D was placed under arrest for “assault with a dangerous weapon (teeth),” two counts of assault on a police officer, three counts of “contempt of court (release violations),” and resisting arrest. He was then transported to the First District for processing. Despite this list of charges from MPD, the prosecutor only filed one charge in the associated court case: assaulting, or interfering with a law enforcement officer. Unlike D’s previous cases, this one was logged at the felony level and placed on the accelerated felony trial calendar, awaiting a grand jury.

Unlike the previous arrests, D was not released. He was sent to D.C. Jail without bail on July 6 and the jail confirmed he was still there at the time of publication. He awaits the first hearing of the felony case, which is set to be held next month, 12 days after his 26th birthday.

Callie Tansill-Suddath contributed reporting.

Issues |Civil Rights|Crime|DC Budget|Health, Mental|Living Unsheltered

Region |Washington DC

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