Counselors say they could have been at the scene of a police shooting within minutes, not hours, as police Chief Terry Mangan said the day his officers killed a mentally ill man.
“We could have responded very quickly,” said David Panken, chief executive of Spokane Community Mental Health Center. “We were not tied up on any cases right then.”
But Panken’s organization, which the county pays to provide crisis counseling, was not called to the South Hill apartment where three officers shot Blaine Dalrymple five times on March 9.
“We’re not going to put a mental health person in harm’s way with a violent, confrontative individual until we have stabilized the situation,” Mangan said Friday. “This man was absolutely out of control.”
Jean Dalrymple called police at 2:18 a.m., when her 38-year-old son locked himself in the bathroom and began smashing things. She said she feared he would kill himself or hurt her.
Officers spent a half-hour negotiating through the door with Dalrymple, a paranoid schizophrenic with a history of drug abuse, petty crimes and antisocial behavior. He continued breaking glass as police talked to him and sprayed pepper gas under the door.
The officers, who said they feared Dalrymple would commit suicide, kicked in the bathroom door and sprayed him with more pepper gas. They shot him as he lunged at them with a shard of glass broken from the bathroom mirror.
An autopsy later showed that Dalrymple had swallowed razor blades and sliced his wrists while in the bathroom.
Mangan said during a news conference the day of the shooting that community mental health workers weren’t called because they would have been at danger. Besides, he said, it would have taken at least an hour to rouse them from their homes.
But Panken, responding to inquiries from county Commissioner Steve Hasson, said at least three counselors are on call at the center, 107 S. Division, around the clock. At the time of the shooting, he said, none of them were busy.
He estimated they could have been at the apartment in 15 minutes or less.
Although police don’t call the counselors to dangerous situations, the friends or family of mentally ill people often do, Panken said. In such cases, the counselors often call police from the scene.
“That’s why we’re here, to be of assistance in these situations,” he said.
Panken said he isn’t secondguessing the police decision to shoot Dalrymple.
“I understand the terrible stress that the police are under,” Panken said.
Hasson said he’s not second-guessing, either.
“At the same time, I certainly don’t want the chief of police using the community mental health people as a scapegoat,” he said.
Hasson said he asked for the response-time information because he feared the county could be held liable for the shooting if it were true the counselors were an hour away.
“The county oversees mental health services and we want to be able to provide immediate service to law and justice,” he said. “It’s really frustrating if we’re perceived as a tool you can’t rely upon.”
Mangan called Hasson’s involvement in the shooting “absolutely ridiculous.”
“If anybody gets sued over an officer shooting it’s not going to be Steve Hasson or the county,” the chief said.