Mentally ill man dies after violent clash with police

December 29, 2006|By Anica Butler | Anica Butler,sun reporter

In the second time in seven months that a mentally disturbed man has died during a confrontation with Anne Arundel County police, a 24-year-old Pasadena man stopped breathing after being subdued by six officers.

Steven Ray Ellison allegedly assaulted four people Wednesday night, then struggled with a half-dozen officers who got him onto the ground and into handcuffs before he lost consciousness, county police said yesterday.

The cause of Ellison's death has not been determined. Homicide detectives and the state's attorney's office are investigating.

Friends and neighbors yesterday said police should have called in one of their "mobile crisis units" of trained mental health professionals to defuse the situation with Ellison, who his girlfriend said was on a half-dozen medications for mental illness.

But Lt. David Waltemeyer, a police spokesman, said the two-member units are not designed to intervene in situations that have already turned violent. He added that officers' priority was to ensure everyone's safety.

Lori Smith, 23, who had been dating Ellison off and on over 10 years, said in an interview that she and Ellison, of the 100 block Magothy Bridge Road, had taken a moped ride to a friend's house on the 400 block of Center St. on Wednesday night, and they were having fun there.

"We were just talking; everything was fine, then it was like a switch flipped," she said. "He started talking crazy, and he got louder."

The couple had been out in the yard, and Smith said that at one point, she got down on her knees while Ellison yelled at her: "You gotta believe!"

"I was terrified," she said.

The friend they were visiting intervened, she said, and she ran inside the house and locked herself and several young children who live in the house in a bedroom.

Police say that Ellison then assaulted his friend and a couple who lived in the home. An officer responding to a 911 call just before 11 p.m. found Ellison in the street. He got Ellison on the ground, according to police, but Ellison struggled violently as five additional arriving officers helped control him enough to get him in handcuffs, according to police.

Ellison became unresponsive, and officers performed CPR, police said. He was taken to Baltimore Washington Medical Center, where he died.

Joe Bryley, 23, of Center Street, said he and Ellison were friends for 10 years. He was at home Wednesday night when he heard yelling outside and saw Ellison in the street repeating, "You gotta believe." Bryley called 911, and when he was told that police already were on the way, he said that he asked them to bring an ambulance as well, because his friend had mental problems.

"Steve was a good guy. He was nice to everybody. He just had problems sometimes," he said. "He didn't deserve to die."

Ellison's family would not comment for this article, but an attorney who represented Ellison on an assault charge said that a District Court judge had ordered Ellison to submit to a psychiatric evaluation.

According to court records, Ellison pleaded guilty to second-degree assault in November and received a one-year suspended sentence. As a condition of his probation, he also was required to follow the recommendations of the evaluation, said Peter S. O'Neill, Ellison's attorney.

Waltemeyer said the dispatcher's notes from the 911 call don't mention Ellison having a mental problem or being delusional. But whether Ellison was mentally ill, or whether police had been given that information, the response would have been the same, Waltemeyer said.

Cpl. Sara Schriver said the mobile units - which increased in number after police in May shot 18-year-old Justin Fisher of Glen Burnie as he wielded a pair of scissors - do not respond to violent incidents because the teams are made up of mental health professionals who would not be able to protect themselves.

"We don't use them for situations of violence," Schriver said. "We absolutely don't consider it."

Bryley said that he and other neighbors wondered about the absence of the mobile mental health teams after a man who lives on Center Street was involved in a car crash on Ritchie Highway that injured four people. Walter Clay Hickey III, 44, told police after the Dec. 10 accident that clouds were chasing him. Two hours earlier, Hickey's mother had called police asking them to take him into custody, and they refused because he wasn't posing a danger, Waltemeyer said.

That incident is under administrative review, and a police commander will determine whether the unit should have been called.

The incident is still fresh to the people on Center Street. It might have been on Ellison's mind as well. According to Smith, he said Wednesday night: "Now I know what Wally's talking about."

anica.butler@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Nia-Malika-Henderson contributed to this article.

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