Richland Police Chief asks Council for Three More Officers, Says Eighty Percent of Calls have a Mental Health Aspect

September 22, 2020

At the Sept 8 budget meeting, Richland Police Chief John Bruce told the Richland City Council that he would like to add three more officers to his department.  The city currently budgets for 65.

But Mayor Ryan Lukson had another question — “Why wouldn’t you add more mental health training?” 

The concern stemmed from another fact Bruce laid out. Eighty percent of calls to Richland police involve a mental health aspect, the chief said.

Bruce told the council that the department already provides de-escalation and mental health training for its officers. 

What the department needs, he said, are more bodies. Having more officers per shift means more time to respond to an incident, knowing backup is close by.

“Officers need time to just slow down,” Bruce said. “Officers who rush in may have a deadly force incident. Wait for your back up. Survey the scene. Re-evaluate the decision.”

Bruce also said that he would like officers to be able to allocate 40 percent of their time in the community visiting businesses, schools and Parent Teacher Associations.

The department has mental health crisis workers who ride along with officers, Bruce said. Lourdes Outpatient Services has a grant for more than $1 million that provides these professionals to Tri-Cities police departments.

The Observer talked to Richland Police Capt. Chris Lee and Director of Lourdes’ Outpatient Services Cameron Fordmeir, who administers the grant.

Lee said each jurisdiction has a mobile outreach team that includes a mental outreach professional called a “designated crisis responder.” That person decides whether someone poses enough of danger to themselves or others that they require 72-hour detention for drug abuse or psychiatric evaluation.

The team may also include a mental outreach counselor who provides contacts for follow-up support services or counseling, and peer specialists who work behind the scenes to make sure the paperwork doesn’t fall between the cracks.

“Sometimes the Richland police drive their team member to other jurisdictions which need them,” Lee said. 

Fordmeir added that the program currently has six designated crisis responders, two mental outreach counselors and three peer specialists to cover all of Benton and Franklin counties.

“Since the program began in 2018, the teams have had 4,163 contacts and 87 psychiatric hospitalizations,” Fordmeir said.

The current grant expires June 2021. Fordmeir plans to reapply for the grant as well as look for funding from the cities and other sources so that the program can continue.

What Killed Werner Anderson While He was in Pasco Police Custody?

Werner Anderson had a heart attack and died while in Pasco Police custody moments after medics injected Anderson with the sedative ketamine while one police officer knelt on his back and another held his feet. 

The Observer submitted a public records request and obtained the 537-page Special Investigative Unit report, which Franklin County prosecutor Shawn Sant received over a year ago, on August 28, 2019. 

In addition, the Observer obtained the 2019 Schedule Drug Report from the Pasco Fire Department about the use of ketamine by medics. The Observer also had telephone conversations with Dr. Kevin Hodges, medical program director of Benton-Franklin Counties and Franklin County Coroner Curtis McGary.

On August 10, 2018, Pasco Police Officer Andrew Corral1 responded to a call from the area near Chinese Gardens Restaurant in Pasco. Neighbors reported that a man was knocking on doors, yelling and “acting like he was on drugs.”

In a statement, Corral reported that “the male was cooperative, gave his name as Werner Anderson, and gave his date of birth.”

Corral said that Warner refused to go voluntarily to Lourdes Hospital or detox and instead asked to be taken to the men’s shelter at the Tri-City Union Gospel Mission.

Minutes after officers dropped Warner off at the shelter, though, Ruben Ochoa, director of the men’s shelter, called police to report that “he saw a man flopping on the ground like a fish” and “slapping the ground really hard with his hand.” He reported that Anderson had also swung at one person and hit a second person with a grazing blow.

When Officer Adam Wright2 and Officer Alexander Busch and Corral responded to the call, they handcuffed Anderson and helped him into the shade. An ambulance arrived with Medic James McGrath and Busch and Wright walked Anderson to it. Both Ochoa and Mission Director Debra Biondolillo described Anderson as walking with assistance.

According to Busch, when Anderson sat in the medic’s chair, Busch said to him, “Hey, you know, you can’t sit there. You gotta sit on the stretcher. So he got up from there. I helped guide him up and he stepped between the, uh, bench area and the stretcher.”

To extricate Anderson, the stretcher was removed from the ambulance. Busch and Wright attempted to get Anderson to his feet, but he resisted. After a struggle, Busch held Anderson’s feet while Wright, according to his statement, knelt on “his back area, his shoulders.”

Officer James B. Vaugh, who arrived about the time of the struggle in the ambulance, said in a statement, “Officer Wright was in the ambulance and had a knee on the subject holding him down. The subject was handcuffed, face down, and screaming at the top of his lungs.”

Dr. Lawrence Heiskell, an emergency physician and a veteran reserve police officer with the Palm Springs (California) Police Department, writing in “Police Magazine,” describes the dangers of placing body weight on detainees in a prone position.

According to McGrath “the decision was made to apply chemical restraints.”  In his statement Michael Maier of the Pasco Fire Department also said, “It was determined that ketamine would be used.” Maier stated that he drew up the sedative and handed it to McGrath.

Moments after McGrath injected 250 milligrams (mg) of ketamine into Anderson’s shoulder, Anderson’s heart stopped. McGrath began CPR and other rescue methods and the ambulance left for Kadlec, the closest hospital with a Level 1 cardiac unit. Anderson was declared dead at Kadlec. 

Recently the dangers of ketamine as well as the practice of kneeling on the backs of detainees has received new scrutiny.

A young Black man died in Aurora, Colorado in 2019 after being held in a chokehold and then injected with a large dose of ketamine. Colorado and Minnesota have both reported sharp increases in the use of the drug by medics despite medical warnings about side-effects.

According to the Mayo Clinic website, injected ketamine can cause “difficult or troubled breathing” and “fast, slow, or irregular heartbeat.”

The American Society of Anesthesiologists released a statement on July 15, 2020,  that said it “firmly opposes the use of ketamine or any other sedative/hypnotic agent to chemically incapacitate someone for a law enforcement purpose and not for a legitimate medical reason.

The Observer spoke by telephone with Dr. Kevin Hodges, medical program director of Benton-Franklin Counties. When asked who “determines” when to use ketamine, Hodges said, “It is the sole responsibility of the medic as to when to use drugs in an emergency.” 

Hodges added, “Ketamine is the safest, most efficient drug available for sedation of agitated patients.”

In a document signed by Hodges on June 1, 2016 and included in the SIU report, “Protocol Title: Behavioral Emergencies” there is another option for “dangerous agitation/combativeness” — “4-point soft restraints.”

When the medics chose to use ketamine, at least four people from the Pasco Fire Department were at the scene: medics Maier and McGrath; ambulance driver, Captain Seth Rhoer; and ride along Andrew Kimball.  Four Pasco police officers were also there: Wright, Busch, Corral and Vaugh.

Hodges pointed out that “Ketamine is primarily used by medics for pain relief.”

In Pasco, the 2019 Schedule Drug Report for Ketamine lists 34 times that medics used primarily small amounts, around 15 mg for pain.  On 23 other occasions, larger doses of up to 200 mg to 500 mg were injected for conditions that included alcohol abuse, psychiatric disorders and altered mental status.

According to the toxicology report in the SIU report, in addition to the ketamine, Anderson had THC, amphetamine and methamphetamine in his blood.  

In a telephone conversation with the Franklin County Coroner Curtis McGary, the Observer learned that the coroner’s office listed “drug overdose” as the cause of death.

After over a year with the SIU report, Franklin County Prosecutor Shawn Sant has yet to announce whether any charges will be brought in the case.

1 Another SIU investigation was created on July 30, 2020 to investigate Corral after he shot Santiago Ayala-Pineda for allegedly refusing to drop a handgun.

2Wright was one of the three Pasco police officers who shot rock thrower Antonio Zambrano-Montes in 2015.