Our son was a graduate student working on his second master’s degree while at the same time struggling with the effects of bipolar disorder. While in the midst of a suspected mental health crisis and unarmed, he was beaten with night sticks at least 30 times and shot five times by officers apparently inexperienced and untrained in dealing with students or other individuals with disabilities. As it became obvious in the days that followed, this horrific incident took place in a community environment where those with mental illnesses or those with disabilities often were viewed with a lack of empathy or even basic understanding of the pain experienced by the mentally ill.
Jim and his excellent staff were able to navigate all of the perceived inherent “negatives” in our son’s case–the victim’s mental illness, the demographics of the victim and his family, as well as the involvement of three armed police officers who “feared for their safety”—to bring a degree of justice for our son and for those who in the future may be similarly situated. (All of this occurred before the national spotlight was trained on deaths at the hands of law enforcement or those acting as surrogates for law enforcement.) Throughout our grief–sometimes overwhelming and appearing bottomless–Jim remained calm, a leader in the investigative process and an effective advocate not only for us, but for all of the unnamed or unknown mentally ill victims and their families. He listened and he advocated appropriately, always maintaining positive relations with opposing attorneys and mediators.
More important than the monetary settlement for our family’s unfathomable loss was the agreement to retrain the campus police to properly recognize and manage an individual suspected of experiencing a mental health crisis. Jim was instrumental in identifying expert resources who work effectively to enlighten law enforcement in their dealings with the mentally ill. We expect this to have far reaching, positive effects for future consumers of mental health services as well as for leaders in the administration of law enforcement.
Jim is a highly effective advocate for the entire community.