Sunday, February 7, 2010

Pete Earley - Outrage in Fairfax

Pete Earley is the author of the highly-acclaimed “Crazy: A Father’s Search Through America’s Mental Health Madness.” Prior to turning his attention to mental illness, Pete, a former Washington Post investigative journalist, had achieved fame writing books on such topics as crime, criminal justice, Vegas, and spies. Then, one day, out of nowhere, ten tons of bricks dropped on his head.

Several years ago, Pete stood by helpless as his son Mike, fresh out of college, went off his Zyprexa and flipped into florid psychosis. But for doctors to treat him, first they needed his consent. Never mind that Mike’s condition had robbed his brain of all power to reason. Rules are rules. Of course, should Pete's son do something outrageous ...

A couple of days later, Mike obliged. In a highly delusional state, he broke into someone’s home and took a bubble bath. It took six Fairfax County (VA) police and a police dog to subdue him. Now a felony charge hung over Pete’s son. As Pete explained to a session I attended at the 2006 NAMI convention: “We’ve made them criminals as well as mentally ill.”

Pete’s wife urged him to do as a journalist what he could not do as a parent. Driven by his family nightmare, Pete did his own homework and turned in an eye-opening account of the degradation and horror visited upon those left to fend for themselves.

I’ve had occasion to meet up with Pete twice since then. (Pete was highly complimentary of my own book, and provided me, unsolicited, with a ringing endorsement.) He’s in high demand as a speaker at mental health conferences, and when he talks he leaves no doubt that the fire burns hot in his belly. Same with when he writes.

Yesterday’s Washington Post features an op-ed piece by Pete. According to the facts he presents:

In November, David Masters, 52, was fatally shot in his vehicle at a busy intersection after being stopped by police, who suspected him of stealing flowers outside a local business. On Jan 27, Fairfax Commonwealth’s Attorney Raymond Morrogh announced that his office would not file charges against the unnamed police officer involved in the shooting.

In Pete Earley’s words, Morrogh ...

... offered this stunning summary of what happened: "Unfortunately, we had a mentally ill man who was behaving bizarrely ... His family indicated he was behaving under delusions, that he might feel he was under attack if approached by the police. I think that's the explanation for his actions."

Pete is quick to point out that this is pure speculation on the part of the prosecutor, who apparently felt that an after-the-fact determination that Masters must have been crazy was reason enough to fire two rounds into him. As Pete points out:

The three officers did not know that Masters had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder when they confronted him. Many drivers open their jackets to retrieve their wallets when stopped by the police. The fact that a driver might be belligerent or challenge the police when confronted is not some automatic signal that he is mentally ill. What proof does Morrogh have that Masters was in the midst of a psychotic or delusional episode when he was stopped?

Pete also notes that “Morrogh's statement implies that individuals with mental illnesses cannot control their disorders and are prone to violence,” and that “even if Masters's disorder actually was a factor, there is an excellent chance that the officers who confronted him were not trained in how to determine whether someone acting ‘bizarrely’ is psychotic.”

Pete goes on to say that Crisis Intervention Training (CIT), which teaches police how to respond to situations involving individuals with mental illness, was offered to Fairfax Police in 2008, but has not been offered since.

Why are we not surprised?

(Note: Lest we rush to judgment, there is nothing in Pete's piece to suggest that the officer involved should be charged in the fatal shooting. That is obviously a separate issue. The concern here is the prosecutor's outrageous disregard for a citizen his office is charged with serving and protecting.)


Moira said...

Thank you for giving national attention to David Masters' death and Pete Earley's quest to bring David Masters some dignity.

Pete Earley is also trying to prevent further tragedy by bringing Crisis Intervention Training to the police. Unfortunately, Pete's Op-Ed that you mention appeared yesterday, a day without delivery of The Washington Post. We're recovering from a blizzard here and the paper couldn't get through. I hope Pete Earley finds some readers online.

David Masters suffered from bipolar disorder.

David Masters was also a decorated combat veteran, a former Green Beret, a husband, a father and a carpenter.

I'm so grateful that you care enough to write about this here.

John McManamy said...

Hey, Moria. Boy, are you quick. You posted this comment before I even had a chance to personally email you to tell you my post was up. :)

(To readers: It was Moira who gave me the heads up about the Pete Earley op-ed.)

I didn't realize at the time I wrote the piece that David Masters - the person who was shot by police - was a former Green Beret and family man. I came across that in one of the comments to Pete's op-ed piece, where I left my own comment.

That commenter also observed that the police desperately need more training, as there are a lot of returning vets with PTSD.

So, in the eyes of the police and prosecutor, David Masters was just some nutjob who pissed off a cop and deserved to be shot. Not a hero who served his country. Not a man with a family. Not even a citizen with rights.

Anonymous said...

I just wonder why someone said David Masters was delusional when this happened. i saw Dave the night before he was killed, He brought me cigarettes and koi fish food and ate dinner, Yea he got alittle confused that time of the year but he would'nt act crazy the way people are saying..I was with him just about everyday for the past 20 years i ought to know how he acted.I could go on and on but one thing i want to say is that i know he would'nt harm anyone or anything! He was a very careing person. He will always be in my heart and i miss him soo much.

John McManamy said...

Hi, Anonymous. I'm so sorry for your loss. Please know that you are not alone in your grief. When you are ready, I urge you to contact Pete Earley, the person who wrote the Washington Post piece. He lives in Fairfax County. I cannot speak for Pete, but I'm sure he would be very happy to talk to you. You can get in touch with him by going to his blog at:

... and leaving a comment.

Once again, I am very sorry for your loss.

Anonymous said...

Thank you.