I Called Loudoun County Deputies For Help. Instead My Son Was Jailed. Hospital: 7 days. Jail: 29 days & Counting.

(4-17-18) (Update: Sheriff’s response posted on the 19th. Also, this is a letter to me. It is not about my son. Sorry for any confusion.)

Dear Pete,

My son was violent and damaging our home and threatening to kill himself.  He said he wanted the police to shoot him in front of me so it would be on my conscience.

Let me back-up for a moment.

My 20 year-old son has struggled with mental illness most of his life, early on he was diagnosed with ADHD, ODD, and bipolar. We have taken him to numerous therapists, psychiatrists, as well as trying multiple medications to regulate his mood and behavior over the years.

Recently, we noticed red flags signaling his mood was darkening. His behavior in our home was so unsettling that we felt we had no choice but to call the Sheriff’s office in Loudoun County. I specifically requested crisis intervention team trained deputies and I met with one of the first deputies on the scene to insure law enforcement was provided with  as much background information on my son as possible. I also described why I had called and specifically asked them not to hurt my son during intake.

We never expected what happened next.

My wife and I were asked to come out to the front of our house as the deputies positioned themselves at the front and rear entrances. They were waiting for my son to exit on his own.

While we were waiting, a K-9 unit arrived.  That was very unsettling to me. For most people encountering a police K-9 unit can be an intimidating experience.  I kept imagining how my son would react in the midst of a psychotic mental breakdown when he encountered that same K-9 and multiple deputies with the K-9 howling dogs.

When my son appeared, the deputies attempted to restrain him. He resisted and an ambulance was called. By this point, my son was cursing and threatening the deputies, myself, my wife, and our neighbors. It  was a huge spectacle with many of my neighbors coming out because of the commotion.

There was no attempt at de-escalation.

The police forced him to the ground and hogtied him in order to get him into the ambulance.  At one point while he was on the ground,  he screamed “Shoot Me!” over and over. It was clear that my son was not mentally stable.

I received a call later that night from Loudoun County Mental Health to come to the hospital to sign paperwork. He was being held under an emergency custody order and was taken to Northern Virginia Mental Health Institute (NVMHI). This is when he disappeared into the dreaded black hole of “he’s an adult and there’s no signed release on file or power of attorney, I’m sorry sir we can’t release any information to you at this time.”

The Dreaded Black Deepens

Three days later, my son called home while we were at work and left a voicemail telling us that he was being transported to Poplar Springs Hospital near Petersburg, VA. No explanation was given and NVMHI would not tell us anything due to HIPAA laws.

I was outraged, with all of the mental health resources in the Northern Virginia area, why was he transported almost three hours away?

Fast forward two days. It was a Saturday around 10:30 a.m. and I was working in my home office when there was a loud knock at the door.  I answered and there was a group of about five or six Loudoun County Sheriff’s deputies. They had come to arrest my son. Five or six officers positioned around our house ready for a possible confrontation.

I explained that he was in the hospital and not at home. I asked why they would arrest him and was told it was related to his trip to the hospital. They knew he was mentally ill. Why was he being charged?

I spoke with my son while he was still in the Poplar Springs Hospital and advised him to surrender peacefully to the magistrate to face whatever charges Loudoun County Sheriff’s office had gotten filed. We would then hire a lawyer. That is when my son disappeared. We had no idea where he was for five days.

I contacted NAMI of Northern Virginia and retained a competent and empathetic attorney.  He tracked down my son. The hospital had discharge him with no medication. He had been taken immediately to the Riverside Regional Jail in Hopewell, Va.

Before his break, my son had no contact with the criminal justice system and no record. Now he was in the Riverside Regional Jail where his clothing was taken away and he was placed alone in a cell for five days on suicide watch waiting for Loudoun County to arrange transportation so he could be brought back to face a magistrate.

When he was brought back, we learned the charges: five counts of obstruction of justice, one count of vandalism, and one count of disorderly conduct, a total of seven misdemeanor charges. He was held without bond because the magistrate considered him a threat to himself and our community.

As I type this email at 7:58 a.m.  – it has been 29 days since I called the police – my son is still sitting in the Loudoun County adult detention center without bond.

As his parent and the one who called for assistance with an emergency custody order, I find myself wracked with guilt.

Parent Feels Guilty 

 I was trying to get my son some help and get him out of the house and into treatment – not arrested.

At this point,  he has been incarcerated longer than he was in treatment (7 days in hospital/22 days in jail). To me, it is shameful of Loudoun County to criminally charge someone who is clearly mentally ill when a family in crisis calls for assistance.

I have reached out to all levels of state and local government for assistance. Our county Supervisors Matthew Letourneau, Phyllis Randall, Virginia Delegate John Bell, State Senator Dick Black, representatives from NAMI and Friends of Loudoun have all responded with words of encouragement and empathy, with Supervisory Letourneau going above and beyond to assist where he can.

The one official who has not responded is Sheriff Mike Chapman.

Talking with others,  I’ve been told that Loudoun County is particularly aggressive in criminally charging the mentally ill. I have been told that – most likely-  under the same scenario that my son would not have been criminally charged in Fairfax, Prince William, Arlington, or Alexandria Counties for having a mental health crisis during an emergency custody intake.

We are working to have him bonded out as soon as possible to get on with the healing and family reconciliation.

The Loudoun County Sheriff’s office states on its Crisis Intervention Team website the following:

“The goals of CIT is to promote positive interactions between law enforcement and persons in crisis, prevent inappropriate restraint, incarceration and stigmatization of persons with mental illness, reduce injuries to deputies and persons suffering from mental illness as well as their families. It is also to link individuals and their families to appropriate treatment and resources in the Loudoun County Community.”

I asked Sheriff Chapman in an email: ‘What’s the point of having CIT if his office, if it is going to push for criminally charging persons who are clearly mentally ill?’ He never bothered to respond.

I have kept records of my son’s history of treatment and mental health issues over the years and provided them to his attorney. Our best hope is that the charges are dismissed and my son can get on with his life and treatment for his mental illness.

The People You Call For Help Should Help You, Not Make Things Exponentially Worse

No other family should have to endure this type of compounded crisis, the people you call for help, should help you, not make things exponentially worse by taking someone who was getting medication and treatment and throw them into a cell, naked, and isolated and de- compensating.

That should not happen in 2018 in the “wealthiest” county in America, it should not happen in any county in America.

Signed: A Frustrated Father

(A copy of this blog post is being sent to Sheriff Michael Chapman and will happily post any response from him. I have exchanged emails with the writer of this letter to verify his story. I’d love to hear your reaction on my Facebook page about this all too-common incident. How could it have been better handled?)


About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.