Mental health issues dominate officers’ work | Police Calls

Police Chief Steven Strachan

It was very apparent this past week that the full moon was coming.

It started Oct. 7 when officers responded to a hit-and-run collision on Wheaton Way. Witnesses said a red pickup crossed over into the northbound lanes, crashed into a car and “kept on truckin’.” The mystery was solved a few minutes later when our dispatch center told officers there was — you guessed it — a red pickup truck disabled and blocking the road a block or two away.

Sgt. Tim Garrity located the driver of the pickup, who was still shaking his head from the airbag deployment. When asked about his recent adventure, the driver said he was “eating some fish while driving and started to choke on it.” He claimed he thought he hit a wall and kept going a bit further to safely get off the road. He admitted to having one drink, was given a breath test, and cited for negligent driving.

Officers were called to a West Bremerton bar for a man who had reportedly broken out a window. Officer Jason Butler arrived within two minutes and saw the suspect in the nearby alley, and engaged the man in a short conversation, which was followed immediately by a foot pursuit. The man dove into some bushes and disappeared. The officer noted that he saw what appeared to be a wooden handle sticking out of the man’s pocket. The suspect’s sweatshirt, cellphone and a hammer were found in a backyard nearby a short time later.

Meanwhile, back at the bar, a patron said he had gotten into a tussle with the suspect, who then shocked everyone when he started breaking out a huge 7-foot-by-5-foot picture window with a hammer. Officers noted that the man also smashed a cool Budweiser neon sign that was hanging in the window.

Soon after, an alert citizen called 9-1-1 to report an unknown and suspicious man hiding in a neighbor’s backyard. Officer Butler went out and nabbed him, and the witness from the bar positively identified him as the suspect. The man, dubbed by responding officers as the “Hot-Headed Hammer Holder,” went to jail for felony malicious mischief.

If you are a regular reader of this column, you know that calls related to mental illness make up the majority of our activity, repeat calls and risky contacts. As we often say, if we only had to deal with criminals, this job would be much, much safer and easier. Several calls last week prove the point.

On Oct. 4, a woman with severe mental health issues was discharged from the hospital, but she refused to leave. Officer Joe Corey tried everything in his Crisis Intervention toolkit, but she would have none of it. She refused to depart when ordered to do so, leaving officers with only one option, which was to arrest her for trespassing. As she has done many times in the past, she began screaming and yelling inappropriate remarks at everyone within earshot. As it happens very frequently, instead of being in an institution, she will be in and out of jail, all of which is paid for by city taxpayers. If you think that’s not right, I agree and encourage you to talk to your legislators.

That same day, several people reported a naked man with “makeup or mud” on his face running down the street. Cpl. Duke Roessel was in the right place at the right time (but not if you ask him) to intercept the man. He soon learned that the stuff on the man’s face wasn’t makeup or mud. Once he got the man to stop, the subject exclaimed “I’m a s*** eater!”

So after declaring his hobby to Roessel, he then had the temerity to reach out and push him. Roessel and others wrapped the man in a plastic blanket and placed him under arrest for indecent exposure and assaulting a law enforcement officer. The man began spitting and had to be restrained further. As you can imagine, he was taken to the hospital for a mental health evaluation and the criminal report was forwarded to the prosecutor’s office for review.

Later in the week, Officer Jen Corn responded to a reported theft of a yacht from one of the marinas. The owner called 9-1-1, stating he received a phone call from a man, saying that his “girlfriend is in distress” and he needed (for some reason) to take the owner’s boat to Bellingham. The owner had posted his phone number on the boat for emergency contacts, and the suspect took advantage of this.

While the officer was in the marina, she spotted the boat in a different slip nearby. As she approached, she saw a man on board … eating potato chips. Long story short, the man was detained, he stated he “wanted to sail like a pirate and do lots of drugs.” Yes, it appeared mental health was an issue. The owner arrived and the boat was returned to him. The suspect was booked for burglary and theft.

And it continued that way all week. Later that same night, dispatch sent out an “all hands on deck” call for an in-progress home invasion robbery where the suspect, who was reportedly armed with a handgun, had just fled. As it turned out, a similar call had been reported by the same person about a day earlier. Both 9-1-1 calls were false. The man claimed he captured the suspect on his cellphone video. When he showed it to officers, there was nothing there. He finally agreed to go to the hospital and speak to the doctors about the things he was seeing.

To wrap it all up, last week Officer Brandon Greenhill observed a man we know well walking down the street with a sword in his hand. Greenhill even commented to the man, “Hey, nice sword.” The man was not interested in being friendly and moved on. Holding a sword, as long as it is not being “brandished” in a threatening way, is not illegal. Later that night, Cpl. Jeff Schaefer investigated a burglary where the victim reported certain items missing — including a sword. Now we have a very solid suspect in this saber caper.

We are looking forward to a slower and quieter week ahead. Have a great week.

Work hard, have fun, stay safe.

— Steven D. Strachan is chief of the Bremerton Police Department. Contact him at Steven.Strachan@ci.bremerton.wa.us.

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