July 29, 2007 in City

Jumper’s father questions Taser use

By The Spokesman-Review
 

The father of the man who jumped from the Monroe Street Bridge is questioning the Spokane Police Department’s use of a Taser on his son seconds before he fell to his death.

The 28-year-old man was discovered sitting on the railing of the bridge Thursday evening and remained there for 20 hours as police negotiated with him to come down. His father, Dave Breidenbach, identified him as his son, Josh Levy.

Spokane Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick said in a news conference after he jumped that the Taser was used in an attempt to take Levy to the ground when negotiators successfully got Levy to come off the ledge.

But only one probe of the Taser made contact with Levy, Kirkpatrick said, and he got back on the railing, jumped and died after landing on rocks below.

“I was assured all day that no violence would be taken toward my son,” Breidenbach said. “I don’t believe that firing a Taser at a nonviolent potential suicide victim is a tactical maneuver.”

At the press conference, Kirkpatrick said police successfully got him to come down from the railing after negotiating a way for him to “save face.”

“One of the success options that we give people in distress is, ‘You make it look like we took you into custody,’ and that was exactly what we were doing in talking with him,” Kirkpatrick said. “Our tactical plan was to apply one application of the Taser to bring him to the ground so we could get him in that custody.”

Breidenbach said Saturday that in the past seven years his son had dealt with severe depression and had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Earlier in the week, Breidenbach had picked up his son from Western State Hospital and brought him to stay with him in Spokane. Levy grew up in Spokane and later, Bainbridge Island, where Levy’s mother still lives.

Levy had attempted suicide before and jumped from three bridges in Western Washington without suffering significant injuries, Breidenbach said. Levy also had been talked down on other occasions from Western Washington bridges.

Marilyn Wilson, Spokane Mental Health’s clinical services director, said one or two staff members of the agency were on the scene for a short time Friday morning to consult police.

She said she didn’t know enough about the specifics of the case to assess what happened. “It’s a very difficult situation that nobody can ever predict,” she said. “Everybody does the best they can do in a situation like this.”

Abe Ferris, who leads a support group with the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, questioned why a Taser would be used on a nonviolent person in a suicidal state.

“Why would you agitate them more?” Ferris asked.

Spokane County sheriff’s negotiators came to the scene a few hours before Levy jumped. Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said the Spokane Police Department next week will lead a debriefing session on the incident, which he will attend. He said the Police Department retained command at the scene.

“Until I get all the information I would be just shooting from the hip,” Knezovich said.

Mayor Dennis Hession, who was at the scene Friday, said Saturday he was quickly briefed on the incident by the chief.

Kirkpatrick is “giving some time for the officers involved to settle in and recover from the stress and the emotion of this event, and I’m doing the same thing with the chief,” Hession said.

“The officers invested their hearts, their souls into helping him,” Kirkpatrick said at Friday’s news conference. “So for them to see that occur is truly devastating to them as well.”

Breidenbach compared the event to last year’s death of Otto Zehm, a janitor who suffered from mental illness and died after he was falsely accused of a crime and Tasered and hogtied by police.

“We’re going to give substantial time and effort to see that this never happens again to another person who is non-confrontational and non-aggressive,” Breidenbach said. “I just want this not to happen again.”


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email