On March 22, 2019, our son, Brian, took his own life. My husband and I believe that Brian’s suicide could have been prevented if the first group of medical responders and sheriff’s officers, who we called, had acted appropriately.
What follows is a reconstruction of events to the best of our recollection, and a question as to why officers, who responded to our 911 call, didn’t exercise their authority to use an Emergency Custody Order ( An ECO allows a person to be taken to a hospital against their will in Virginia) to assist our son who didn’t have the clarity of thought to act in his own interest.
As Brian became increasingly delusional and paranoid over a period of months, he called the Loudoun sheriff non-emergency number several times. Brian had called them when he lived in an apartment in Leesburg and continued to do so when he moved to our house in Sterling. Officers had come to our house in Sterling to investigate imagined break-ins and “suspicious people” loitering around the house several times in the few weeks prior to Brian’s suicide.
Deputy P. Brick (#3198) responded to these calls and became acquainted with Brian and his mental health status. Because Brian didn’t present himself as being a danger to himself or others during these calls, Deputy Brick told us, “I can’t take Brian in for a mental health evaluation.” We agreed with him at that time.
The last time Brian asked officers to come to the house, Deputy Brick suggested that we try to get an ECO ourselves from the magistrate on the grounds of “inability to care for self.” Please note, Brian had been hospitalized in Loudoun County several times over a 7 year period and had a history of being taken in by the sheriff’s office through ECOs issued on our behalf by the magistrate. He’d also been taken for mental health evaluations several times directly by the sheriff’s officers because of complaints by neighbors. In one case, because of a domestic assault. We’d asked, many times, for the Loudoun County Community Service Board to give Brian Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT). They always refused. The basis of their refusal was that Brian had private insurance which we were able to obtain for him through his father’s job with the State Department and because he’d become ill before the age of 22.
On March 22, we were occupied most of the day in supervising the upgrading of our home security system. Because of Brian’s paranoia, we thought it might help him feel more secure if we activated an old security system that already existed in the house when we purchased it. We had a technician from the security company in our house from 11:30 AM until 5:00 PM.
We were aware that our son wasn’t feeling well and had been vomiting, but we didn’t really start paying attention to his condition until after the technician left at 5:00 PM. Our son had locked himself into an upstairs bathroom and had the water turned on. We assume he hoped the sound of water would camouflage the sound of vomiting. We were able to open the door with a screw driver and found our son crouched on the bathroom floor vomiting into the toilet. His eyes were glazed, and he could barely stand up to walk to the adjoining bedroom. He continued to vomit into a bucket as he sat on the bed.
When we saw his condition, we thought he’d perhaps taken a street drug or overdosed on one of his psychiatric medications. We asked him and he denied it. He said, “I have food poisoning. I’ll be fine.” We could tell it wasn’t food poisoning. Brian’s voice was high pitched and abnormal, and his eyes and the ability to walk weren’t normal. His vomit was black and looked as though it had blood in it.
We decided to call 911. When the responders to our 911 call arrived, it must have been about 5:45-6:00 PM. Two sheriff’s officers accompanied the medical responders. Our recollection is that there were 3 or 4 medical responders. We learned from one of the sheriff’s officers that Officer Brick was not available because he was sick that night. We were upstairs with my son so we didn’t see what kind of vehicle the medical responders arrived in. We don’t know if it was an ambulance or fire truck.
An older man seemed to be in charge of the medical personnel. He asked my son if he could take his vital signs and my son refused. He asked if they could take him to the emergency room and my son refused. The two sheriff’s officers noted to each other that my son had a red mark on his neck where he’d pulled off a chain that he always wore. The older medical person informed us that he could do nothing since my son was refusing treatment. He told me, “Try to persuade your son to be hospitalized.” I was also unsuccessful.
It was clear to me that my son was very ill and delusional. I don’t believe that the medical people ever examined the contents of the bucket my son continued to vomit into in their presence. Shortly thereafter, they all left. They were probably in the house about 15 minutes total.
To us, at least, it was obvious that Brian wasn’t in a mental state where he could make an informed decision about his own health. He was beyond understanding what anyone was saying to him or urging him to do. The question of whether he had taken some self-harming drug was never addressed. The officers certainly must have been aware of his mental health record from past visits. The red mark on his neck that indicated self-harming behavior was ignored.
We know that police and sheriff’s officers are trained to take people in distress into custody and we can’t understand why this was not, at least, considered. We pleaded with them, “Please take Brian to a hospital for medical treatment.” They didn’t exercise their authority to issue an ECO. With hindsight, we think our son was already well along the road to endeavoring to end his life.
Our questions are:
-Did the officers not understand their authority to act in a crisis?
-Had the officers completed the training that is required for this type of situation?
-Did they consider one or more of the three criteria (danger to self, danger to others, inability to care for self) that allows them to act without the consent of an adult?
After the medical responders and the officers left, my husband and I debated about what to do. My husband left the house about 6:30 PM to go to the magistrate in Leesburg to try to obtain an ECO . While my husband raced to Leesburg, my son stumbled down the stairs into our office where I was sitting. He sat down and, a few minutes later, had a convulsion. His body went rigid and his eyes rolled back. He’d never had a convulsion before.
I grabbed my cell phone and called 911 again. My son walked into the living room and fell onto the living room couch continuing to vomit into a bucket. He had another massive convulsion. He ended up with his head on the living room floor and his feet pointed at the ceiling. He had no control over his body. When he was able to sit up again. I was still on the phone with 911. I saw a knife poking out from one of his pants pockets. I asked him, “What is that knife was for?”
Brian started having another convulsion. As his arms and body began to get rigid again, he pulled the knife out of his pocket and slit his throat. I told the 911 person what had happened and begged her to get someone to the house quickly. She told me, “Get towels to try to compress the wound on his throat.” I ran to the kitchen to get towels but my son pushed me away when I returned to him. Running back to get more towels, I turned around and found Brian standing in the kitchen looking through the trash can. I can only guess that he was looking for the knife.
The 911 lady asked me, “Are there any weapons in the house?” I replied, “No, only kitchen knives.” When I said that, my son’s attention went to the drawer where we keep the kitchen knives and he started moving toward it. This whole time he was bleeding profusely from the wound in his neck.
I stood in front of the drawer. Brian was getting weak and couldn’t push me aside. An officer burst through the kitchen door from the garage and started wrestling with my son trying to handcuff him. My son struggled against being handcuffed and asked the officer, “Why are you doing this?" The officer saw the blood pouring from the gaping wound on my son’s neck. He replied, “I’m trying to save your life.”
After several minutes, the officer was able to handcuff Brian. He threw him down on the dining room floor. At that point, medical personnel came into the house. It was too late since my son had lost so much blood. Medical personnel worked on him for thirty minutes with no success. We believe he died on the dining room floor.
Brian was taken to Reston Hospital in an ambulance. My husband arrived back from Leesburg and we rushed to the hospital where we sat in a waiting room for 45 minutes. A doctor came out and told us, “We weren’t able to save Brian. He lost too much blood and we weren’t able to get a heart beat.”
We so wish that the first call to 911 had resulted in getting my son medical treatment and then mental health treatment. The medical examiner’s office stated on the death certificate that the “Immediate cause of death is pending.” We’ve asked for, but haven’t received, the results of any toxicology screening. With the constant vomiting and the convulsions, it’s possible that some drug or overdose of medication was involved.
We hope, in the future, the mental health of the ill person and his/her ability to make informed and rational decisions be taken into consideration by medical responders, and that they defer to sheriff’s officers regarding a possible ECO. The possibility of an attempt at suicide must also be taken into serious account when deciding whether or not to leave the scene. An opportunity to save my son’s life was missed and resulted, in our opinion, in a tragedy that could have been avoided. Our family is devastated by Brian’s loss. He was 38 years old.
We hope our story will prevent this kind of heart-breaking outcome for another family.