Colo. mental health crisis response team scrutinized after death of man during arrest
Doctors ruled the death of the man, who was acutely intoxicated by meth, was determined to be a homicide because of “the contribution of physical restraint to the cause of death”
By Colleen Slevin
DENVER — The death of a man who was handcuffed after a mental health team was called and found him walking out into traffic last year has been ruled a homicide, according to an autopsy report released Wednesday by lawyers for his family.
According to the report, Kevin Dizmang, 63, died on Nov. 22 as the result of cardiac arrest that occurred while he was being restrained and while he was acutely intoxicated by methamphetamine and suffering from health problems such as obesity and asthma.
The report, dated Jan. 6 and signed by five doctors, concluded that the manner of Dizmang’s death in Colorado Springs was determined to be a homicide because of “the contribution of physical restraint to the cause of death.”
Lawyers representing Dizmang’s family also released body camera footage in which an officer is repeatedly heard ordering Dizmang to put his hands behind his back while in the street, as others try to stop cars, and resisting attempts by the officer to put handcuffs on him. He then is taken to the ground with the help of another person in a red jacket — identified by family lawyer Harry Daniels as the team’s paramedic.
It’s hard to see what is happening but, with the person in red holding his arm around the upper part of Dizmang’s body as he lies face down, Dizmang soon stops moving. After he is turned face up, others around him call on Dizmang to talk to them but there is no response.
Daniels noted that no one made any effort to try to revive Dizmang at that point. He also faulted the officer for treating the call like a crime scene from the start, rather than like a mental health crisis.
“The people who came to help him are the people who ended up killing him,” said Daniels, who expects to file a lawsuit over Dizmang’s death.
The Colorado Springs Police Department said the case was investigated and turned over to the 4th Judicial District Attorney’s Office for review. A spokesperson for the district attorney’s office, Howard Black, said the district attorney found the actions of the officer and the paramedic were justified and no criminal charges would be filed.
One expert in de-escalation techniques said the team may have been able to get Dizmang to voluntarily comply to go to the hospital for help by closing down the street, giving the members more time to talk to him in a more relaxed way, without making demands, and without having to stand as close to him.
Even people who are in a mental health crisis or under the influence of drugs can agree to cooperate if given some time, space and understanding, as long as they’re not posing a threat, said Tamara Lynn, the chair and an associate professor in the criminal justice department at Fort Hays State University and president of the executive council of the National De-Escalation Training Center.
Lynn noted that police ended up closing the street anyway and putting up police tape around a large area in a neighborhood as part of a time-consuming investigation into the use of force. By contrast, had the road been closed and the officer approached Dizmang in a calm and relaxed way, it may have taken an hour to get him into an ambulance, she said.
In initial information released after Dizmang’s death, the police department said it dispatched a Community Response Team, comprised of a police officer, a paramedic from the city’s fire department and a mental health clinician to respond to a call about a man who was experiencing a “mental health episode” at a home and he was found in a roadway.
The officer tried to escort the man out of the street, a struggle ensued and the paramedic helped the officer, it said. The man was placed in handcuffs and become unresponsive, it said. Both the officer and paramedic were placed on paid administrative leave, it said.
POLICE1 RESOURCES: LEARN MORE ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH OUTREACH PROGRAMS
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- Documentary provides perspective on police mental health response