A stunning omission

March 21, 2007

The question people should be asking Baltimore County police about the death of a mentally ill man who was subdued by a police Taser is: Where was the department's mobile crisis team? A Taser is no substitute for professionals who are trained to defuse a confrontation with a mentally ill person before it turns deadly.

County police have refused to say if the team was notified, consulted or dispatched to the Middle River home of Ryan Lee Meyers after he threatened and allegedly assaulted a member of his family Friday. The mobile crisis team, which pairs police and county mental health professionals, could have proved invaluable in this situation.

The incident began about 10:30 p.m. Friday when an enraged Mr. Meyers, who suffered from bipolar disorder, refused to let his father into the house. After pushing his mother, he was confronted by his older brother. Mr. Meyers then grabbed a large meat fork and later a baseball bat, which he began swinging, his family said in a report in The Sun. The parents and Mr. Meyers' brother retreated to the front porch, and Mr. Meyers locked the door.

What happened next is in dispute. Police say officers arrived, entered the house, confronted Mr. Meyers and stunned him with a Taser gun when he refused to put down the bat. Mr. Meyers, who was handcuffed and on the floor, went into cardiac arrest as paramedics arrived, police say. The family claims Mr. Meyers cried out after the Taser hit him and then police jumped him.

But did police try to talk Mr. Meyers out of the house initially, to defuse the situation, which is the general rule of thumb in such cases? Police weren't clueless about his illness - they were called to the house two days earlier. And Mr. Meyers' mother says that wasn't the first time.

County police have used Tasers in 40 incidents without injury during their yearlong pilot project. But this technology shouldn't replace attempts to negotiate with an agitated, mentally ill person. Tasers may be a safer alternative to guns, but viewing them as harmless would be a mistake: Amnesty International reports 230 Taser-related deaths since 2001. Mr. Meyers is the latest casualty.

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