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City of Modesto PD

Last year, a young woman lost her life after first responders with the Modesto Police Department (MPD) carelessly failed to act as responsible adults when checking on the welfare of a distressed mother and child. On June 21, 2013, police officers with the MPD failed to recognize, de-escalate and prevent the suicide of a young mother in Modesto. Nearly 40 minutes after a bizarre 911 call, MPD officers traveled to woman’s home to conduct a security or welfare check. The officers found her four-year-old daughter in the street and vomit in front of the front door of the home. The child said her mother was sick and inside the house.

Details of the Case

Officers entered the home to rescue a woman who could have been injured, ill or in immediate need of medical attention. They found the 110-pound, 26 year-old mother in the bathroom, holding a knife over her head in severe mental distress. Although at least 10 MPD officers were dispatched to the scene, all trained in suicide prevention and crisis prevention, a Sergeant only devoted a few minutes to actually speaking with the woman. Unable to convince her to leave her home, they left her there, unattended and without crisis support. The child was delivered to a relative with the help of Child Protective Services. After MPD officers left the woman in such a dire state of catastrophic mental distress, she set fire to her home and died of acute soot and smoke inhalation.

U.S. Suicide Facts

• Approximately 38,000 lives are lost due to suicide each year.

• About 465,000 people are seen in emergency rooms each year for self-inflicted personal injuries

• About 8 million adults think about ending their own life each year.

• Over one million adults make a suicide attempt each year.

• 95 percent of attempted suicides can be saved by appropriate intervention and medical care.

Police Officers as “Gate Keepers”

Police officers have been identified as “gate keepers” in suicide prevention due to the nature of their jobs. They encounter people who are at the end of their ropes mentally, physically and emotionally on a daily basis. The need for training of recognition of at risk behaviors and proper suicide-prevention protocol is particularly well understood within the law enforcement community, which has an elevated incidence of attempted and completed suicides.

When police officers have been properly trained in crisis intervention and suicide prevention measures, there’s no excuse for abandoning the rescue of an at-risk mother, father, child, co-worker or friend. Lives are on the line, and it’s up to police officers, who are the “gate keepers” and often the first line of defense to use their training to de-escalate and prevent potential suicide attempts from happening. Trained law enforcement officers should never abandon at-risk persons who are in severe mental distress and presenting with risk factors for suicide. California court cases have not yet definitively ruled that in the 21st century it is inappropriate to abandon a rescue mission in which a disturbed person is a danger to himself or herself and at risk for suicide. California law does require that professionally trained police officers act reasonably under all the circumstances, and based on that law Alexander Law Group, LLP has filed a lawsuit for wrongful death on behalf of this four-year-old child who lost her mother due to the failure of MPD police to complete the rescue they undertook. Sheila Doe v. City of Modesto, Stanislaus County Superior Court.

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