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Millions For Mental Health Services, But…


Luke Stanford McCrae was arrested for assault on a peace officer on July 18th around 10:30 pm in the 300 block of Leslie Avenue, Ukiah. McCrae had just left the Ukiah Valley Medical Center, where he had turned himself in sometime earlier. Once the doctors had examined the 38-year-old man, he was put on a hold pursuant to section 5150 of the Health and Institutions Code  — “danger to self or others; or gravely [mentally] disabled.” McCrae wasn’t free to leave but had departed custody, so the Ukiah Police were called and Sergeant Andy Phillips, who had been at the hospital earlier on other business and had seen McCrae, responded. Sgt. Phillips soon spotted McCrae walking “fairly briskly in a southbound direction.” Phillips “activated” his emergency lights and used his public address system in the patrol car to tell McCrae to stop, an instruction McCrae ignored.

Sgt. Phillips got out of his patrol car and followed McCrae on foot, again commanding him to stop. McCrae answered that he was going home, and kept walking. Phillips told McCrae he wasn’t free to leave, but McCrae kept going and began flexing his arms and clenching his fists. Sheriff’s Deputy Craig Walker arrived on scene and pulled his patrol vehicle in front of McCrae. McCrae simply veered around it and kept going, so Walker got out and joined Sgt. Phillips in his pursuit of the 5150.

When Sgt Phillips caught up to the “subject, I got in front of him and sprayed him with pepper spray; he wiped it off his face and kept walking. I took him by the right arm to stop him, and with the assistance of two officers got him to the ground. Then he [McCrae] wrenched his arm loose and took a swing at me. I ducked, and the fist hit Walker instead, in the face.”

The officers eventually wrestled McCrae into “compliance” and arrested him on behalf of hospital staff, one of whom had been following McCrae at a discreet distance since he’d left the Hospital, where he had gone of his own volition and had been waiting “a very long time,” and still nobody would attend to him so he got frustrated and left.

At about this time we might begin to wonder about all the one-and-a-quarter million dollars the county recently shoveled into the Adventist Health coffers for these kinds of services, when these “mental health professionals” simply call the cops whenever any muscle is necessary.

Mr. McCrae’s lawyer, Mary LeClair, wanted to explore Sgt. Phillips’ training in dealing with people who are termed “5150.” She asked him about his training. Philips described his training as “some.” When she asked what kind of training the Ukiah Police have for dealing with mental cases, a debate over relevance broke out between the lawyers. In the end it appeared that the sergeant had got most of his training in this field through his own reading and experience in dealing with Ukiah’s thriving 5150 community. Most of us know that  Mendocino County’s police are de facto mental health professionals from their daily work involving free range mental health cases. Phillips had ten years on the force.

When Sgt. Phillips had been at the hospital an hour-and-a-half earlier prior to his scuffle with McCrae, the staff had told him that McCrae was on a 5150 hold and that they knew he was going to try to leave around 11:00, and that they wouldn’t be able to stop him. So Sgt. Phillips must have been expecting the call.

LeClair: “You turned on your overhead lights and yelled for him to sit on the curb?”

Phillips: “No, ma’am. I used the public address system and told him to stop.”

LeClair: “And shortly after you arrived Walker arrived?”

Phillips: “Yes, Ma’am.”

LeClair: “And he veered in front of Mr. McCrae?”

Phillips: “Yes, Ma’am.”

LeClair: “And he [McCrae] walked around Walker?”

Phillips: “Yes, Ma’am.”

LeClair: “Then officer Chapman arrived?”

Phillips: “Yes, Ma’am.”

Le Clair: “How many times did you ask Mr. McCrae to stop?”

Phillips: “Ten.”

LeClair: “And Walker took the punch that was meant for you?”

Phillips: “Yes, Ma’am.”

LeClair took a photo of Walker and showed it to Phillips: “Does he look injured?”

Deputy DA Tom Geddes: “Objection, calls for speculation.”

Judge John Behnke: “Let me see it… It appears there’s some redness on the officer’s cheek.”

LeClair: “Do you know if he refused medical treatment for this ‘injury’ and went back to work immediately?”

Phillips: “Yes, Ma’am.”

LeClair: “Sergeant Phillips, would it be fair to say that dealing with people who have mental issues can be challenging?”

Phillips: “That’s fair.”

LeClair: “Do you have any knowledge about how to approach people in ‘mental health situations’?”

Phillips: “Yes, Ma’am, I do.”

LeClair: “Such as talking in a calm tone to de-escalate the situation?”

Phillips: “Yes, Ma’am.”

LeClair: “Is it fair to say that you made it to Leslie Street with pretty good speed?”

Phillips: “On the way, yes, Ma’am, but once we got there we slowed way down.”

LeClair: “And speaking to Mr. McCrae on the public address system, is that a ‘best practice’ for dealing with someone with mental health issues?”

Phillips: “I don’t know if it is or not, but it seemed reasonable at the time.”

LeClair: “Did you have a mental health professional with you at the time?”

Phillips: “One of the staff from the hospital was following him. That’s how we knew where he was.”

LeClair: “Did you ever engage him in any other conversation, other than telling him to stop and that he wasn’t free to leave?”

Phillips: “Yes, Ma’am.”

Deputy DA Geddes: “Have you had to take people with mental health issues into custody in the past?”

Phillips: “Yes, Sir.”

Geddes: “And do assaults often occur?”

Phillips: “No, Sir.”

Judge Behnke read the relevant 5150 citation from the Health and Institutions Code, to the effect that when a person is a danger to himself or others a police officer or staff member may take that person into custody… “This is a situation,” the judge said, “where force or violence was used against the officers and I don’t think the manner of approach was unreasonable, and I’m glad I live in Mendocino County instead of some other parts of the country where this kind of thing often ends tragically. Ms. LeClair, did you want to make a 17b Motion?” (A motion to reduce the charges from Felony to Misdemeanor if certain conditions are met.)

LeClair: “Yes, your honor. Mr. McCrae is 38 years old with no — zero — convictions on his record. He turned himself in. He was quite a long time in holding and nothing was happening, so he got frustrated and left. He wasn’t in very good mental shape and I know from talking to him there had been an incident with a cat that upset him, but he’s in much better shape now and has been working with Manzanita Services.”

Behnke: “I have some concerns as to what happened — something about killing a cat — and as to why he was on a 5150 hold in the first place.”

Geddes: “He’s been arrested a few times in Sacramento, but no convictions, and I think Mr. McCrae, to make sure this kind of thing doesn’t happen again, should be referred to Behavioral Health Court.”

LeClair: “If we refer him to Behavioral Health Court, then Ms. Norman will start jumping up and down saying, ‘That’s not how it’s done’!”

Behnke: “Fortunately, she’s not here today.”

LeClair with her elbow in her palm, bowed her head and hid a smirk behind her curled hand momentarily: “Your honor, Mr. McCrae injured the cat accidentally and was absolutely distraught over it — that’s why he turned himself in in the first place.”

Behnke: “I’m not saying I won’t grant the 17b motion at some later date – especially if he went into Behavioral Health Court — but I’m going to deny it without prejudice and make a referral to Behavioral Health Court — if you’ll follow through with the paperwork, Ms. LeClair…”

Le Clair: “I certainly will, your Honor and I think Mr. Geddes is willing to offer a resolution.”

All’s well that ends well, and while the County keeps shoveling millions into the maw of the Mental Health Professionals, the police departments and sheriff’s deputies continue to do their heavy lifting and accept, as best they can, the occasional hard slap in the face, and the scarcely veiled censure of defense lawyers for not handling these situations as particularly and as nicely as a pedantic defense lawyer could wish, et cetera, on and on, and on indefinitely… 

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