I intended to write about the Andrew Sallenger case last week, but just didn’t have the time. You’ll recall that in 2002 (okay, you might not remember the exact year) police were called by Sallenger’s family after he had began acting bizarrely and frightfully. After a long struggle with the police, Sallenger, who was overweight, mentally ill and had a heart ailment, stopped breathing. He was revived but died 24 hours later at the hospital.
I’m not sure that I have much to say on it except that it is a sad story. I can understand why the grief-stricken family believes that their brother and son had his life unfairly taken. I’m just not sure what the police should have done differently.
Since I didn’t hear the entire amount of testimony and wasn’t privy to all of the evidence, I won’t make a judgment as to whether the police are responsible for his death. But I would like to pose some questions of a more general nature to you.
What should the police do when a person refuses to be put under arrest? Are tasers or nightsticks too much? Is there a point when the police should retreat, similar to when a high-speed chase is called off? Perhaps wait until the person falls asleep or is in a more congenial mood.
If a person is an imminent danger to himself or others, should the police use different methods for subduing him if he is mentally ill? What if the person is drunk or on drugs, should that affect the degree of force that is used?
Should the police even try to ascertain a person’s mental condition while he is still posing a danger?
Is there anyway the police can tell when someone is resisting, not because he wants to avoid arrest or because he wants to hurt someone, but because he is so frightened that he doesn’t know how else to react?
I’ll hang up and listen.
I would like to make one brief defense for the police that I would have probably ended up making in the comments section anyway.
If you or I, as civilians, encounter someone brandishing a gun, wielding a pitchfork or who is in any other way acting menacing, we have the option of fleeing for our safety and then calling the police. The police don’t have this option. They must confront the danger until the danger subsides. I think this fact sometimes gets lost when Monday morning quarterbacking the actions of the police. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t question what the police do or that they are never in the wrong, it’s just meant to provide a bit of perspective that we may lack having never walked in their shiny black shoes.