My child was a 30-year-old man who still called me “Mama.” Several hours before his death, he said to me, “I can do this on my own. I’m a grown man. Love you, Mom.”
How to begin this story has been a struggle. My son died at the hands of our broken criminal justice and mental health systems. These systems are made up of people who have their own self-interests and who are discriminatory, indifferent, and ignorant. The man who was in, or who still is in, law enforcement was the vessel of this imperfect world and pulled the trigger. Victims. So many victims. My son is a victim and those who knew and loved him are victims.
The grief from losing a child is a roller coaster. So many what ifs and should haves as a mother who loves her child. All I wanted for him was to be good and happy in life and he was, when not afflicted with mental illness.
Ever since my son was killed by an off-duty detention deputy in Florida, I’ve been searching for the hows and whys of his life ending so tragically. Every parent’s nightmare for a child who is afflicted with a serious brain disease came true for me — a disease my son was born with through no fault of his own.
Because of HIPAA privacy laws, I had to get Ronnie, my son, to sign a release statement so I could access his records to try to understand what was wrong when he was involuntarily committed in July 2012, in Florida. I had called the police because I had no idea where to turn to get help. I was unknowledgeable about the signs and symptoms of mental illness. My son was seeing things that were not there, believing the FBI, CIA, and Coastguard were watching him from the sky with helicopters and drones.
Now I understand it was first episode psychosis.
It’s amazing. When someone has a heart attack, is in a car accident, or breaks a leg, help is easily accessible. But when a loved one has a brain disease, there are no signs advertising schizophrenia or mental disease care centers.
I knew my son was mentally ill and had a drinking and drug problem as well. For months before he died, I made phone calls to rehabilitation facilities to try to find a place that would take a dual diagnosis individual ($30,000 month or more). We were not wealthy and money was a huge problem. I spent hours on the phone looking into intervention companies as well. My son could not understand or comprehend how sick he was. He had grandiose tendencies.
The last week of my son’s life was sheer hell. I took him to a psychiatric hospital after a fiasco in the probation office. I was attempting to get him transferred to Alabama where I live, and where we had help lined up. (He got into a fight with his brother in Nov 2015 in the front yard. Police showed up and Ron went berserk and was charged with domestic battery and resisting with violence. Can you believe it? Brothers fighting.) When I got my son to the psychiatric hospital, I was informed it was a for-profit facility and the cost would be $1500 a day. Ron refused to stay and he couldn’t be forced.
I was sitting in our truck with my son and calling the Florida Mental Health Department to make an appointment for a mental health evaluation. There was a two-month waiting list so I called a private psychiatrist and got an appointment the following week. A probation officer said, “You could take him to an emergency room.” This is one of those should haves I didn’t do. My thinking, at the time, was in an emergency room you wait and wait. It’s triage and my son was not bleeding and, in his state of mind, I suspected he wouldn’t sit and wait. And, of course, he had no insurance. My son had lost his job.
A week before he was killed, I pleaded with my son to voluntarily commit himself. He was considering it. He asked me and I told him, “Yes, Ronnie, do it.” He didn’t. Fearing my son would do something to cause harm to himself because of his irrational talk and actions three days prior to his death, out of desperation I called the police to try to get him Baker Acted, which is an involuntarily commitment in Florida. The police got to his apartment too late. My son had just left for Daytona Beach. The policeman called and informed me, if he didn’t see the need to Baker Act him, he wouldn’t do it. Judgment by police is superior to a mother’s judgment. Later, I found out the police should have informed me that I could partition a judge to have Ronnie involuntarily committed.
After he died, I listened to the 911 calls and obtained the police investigation report. It was not an easy task — a lot of hoops to jump through. The morning my son left his apartment on a rampage, police had been in contact. They stated in their report he had no warrants and he didn’t meet criteria to be involuntarily committed — a danger to self or others. They let him go. My son was belligerent with them and was looking for his Bible on the side of the road. Ronnie stated to the police it flew off his dash and out the window. It was almost time for the police shift to end. In my way of thinking, they simply didn’t want to bother with my troubled son.
An hour later, my son was shot dead by an off-duty detention deputy who had no crisis intervention training. The man who killed my son stated in the investigation tapes: “I was confused about what to do. I have never been trained with this kind of stuff, you know. He hadn’t really tried to hurt me, at that point, but I was still scared to death.” On the news, the sheriff stated that the deputy was a professional and trained, and thank God his deputies were okay. What about my son? He was killed. Apparently, his life didn’t matter.
My son’s comment to the deputy, according to the deputy, was, “I don’t know what you’re doing. I don’t want to kill you. Just let me go. Let me go.”
As his mother, I knew my son. He would deliberately provoke and let the imminent events unfold. He was not comprehending this detention deputy pointing a gun, swearing, and screaming commands at him. At the time, my son had no weapon and wore a pair of shorts. There were no witnesses. A law enforcement individual and a dead man. In less than two weeks, justifiable homicide was ruled by the state attorney.
In the past, I had high regard for the judicial system and law enforcement. What happened to my son and how I was regarded changed my thinking. An internal investigation is investigating oneself. The state attorney is going to side with the uniform (law enforcement). It’s a brotherhood. Solidarity has its benefits but not when a wrong has been committed.
I attempted to find an attorney. None would take a stab at a case with no witnesses and the involvement of law enforcement. The deputy was not dual-certified. He only possessed a certificate as a correction officer from the Florida Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission. He couldn’t take law enforcement action on behalf of the county’s sheriff’s office while off duty. Also, based on his off-duty status during the incident, the sheriff’s office order of limited authority did not apply to the incident involving my son and a sergeant. Bottom line: the sheriff’s office was off the hook and not responsible for what a lone off-duty detention deputy did. Therefore, there were no deep pockets to get money for lawyers. A lawsuit brought on my behalf was not economically feasible for law firms.
I didn’t care about the money. I was after any kind of justice. My son didn’t deserve to die. There was no report in the news of a tragedy on behalf of my son. All that was reported was that a bad man, a criminal was shot. He wasn’t a victim nor his mother, his brother, extended family, and friends. My son broke the law because he was in the midst of a psychotic crisis.
What other disease is there that society will justify killing someone because of their symptoms? My son committed a crime so he was punished with death. It doesn’t matter beyond those circumstances. His being psychotic and my not being successful in getting help for him is irrelevant. The sheriff and state attorney wanted to close my son’s case quickly. After all, one of their own did the killing. No improvements can be made when there is no proof of wrongdoing.
In my small part of the country since my son’s death, there have been several more mentally ill people killed by lethal force. I’m in contact with other parents who’ve lost children the same way as I have. The places and times are different but the stories are the same, and the tormented, agonizing pain of loss is the same. I will carry the burden of losing my child, barbarically, the rest of my life. You will see me smile and laugh, but under the surface, the heartache is constant. To help heal, I’ll do all I can for the severely mentally ill and their loved ones to prevent them from enduring the life I am living.
A longer version of Margie’s story, Her Son Was Fatally Shot After She Couldn’t Get Him Help: A Preventible Tragedy Claims Another Life appeared on Pete Earley on Tuesday, November 13, 2018.