My Veteran Husband Became Suicidal: Instead of Treatment, He Got Tasered and Jailed

(7-15-20) Discussions about shifting responsibility for Americans with serious mental illnesses, who are in crisis, away from the police need to continue. Families are being torn apart when the police and criminal justice system respond to calls – often times at the request of family members  – because of a lack of adequate community social services. 

My Husband Needed Help, Instead He’s In Jail

Guest blog by Genevieve Johnson

“You can go to hell too, bitch. I hope you die! I HOPE YOU DIE! Do you see what you’ve done to me? You’ve ruined me, you’ve ruined every man you’ve ever been with. You’ve ruined these children! You bitch!”

It was August of 2018 when my husband screamed these nasty words at me as three deputies escorted him handcuffed out of our home. Beautiful family photos of better days lined every wall in our home. I knew better than to let the words my husband said in the midst of a manic episode get to me.

But they cut so deep and I could feel my face scrunch up as I tried so hard not to cry. The tears flowed anyways as my heart shattered.

I quickly composed myself to go outside to get our four children out of our minivan. They were sweaty from football and cheerleading practice. A female deputy tried to get them out of the van as quickly as possible by turning their trip into our house into a game. She didn’t want them to see their loving father being carted away in handcuffs.

This man, the one who screamed at me that he wished I would die, was not my husband of five years. He was not the man who was my best friend and rock before we became a couple. He was not the man who adopted my older two children to raise and love as his own. His illness had stolen that amazing man away from me and our children.

My husband worked for the police department in Keene, Texas before I met him.

He then joined the Army and became a medic in Clarksville Tennessee. He was stationed at Fort Campbell when I met him while I taught dance lessons. He was my best friend and dance partner for two year before I realized I was in love with him. He had been in love with me the whole time but didn’t say anything because he didn’t want to ruin our friendship.

After he adopted our older two children and we had our third child he decided to leave the military and spend more time at home. It was at that time he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and PTSD. It was then up to the Veteran’s Administration to treat him. We had been a couple for two years at that point.

Once he got out of the Army, he became lost.

He just wasn’t his normal happy, funny self. He tried so many medications over the next two years, which included Depakote that gave him severe anger episodes; a listed side effect. I watched helplessly as my husband struggled to manage his condition, go to school to become a PA, work a full-time job, take care of his family all while being neglected and brushed aside by the Veterans Administration.

When the supervisor of the Sheriff’s deputies, who arrested my husband, came into my house to talk to me, the very first words out of my mouth were, “That is not my best friend of six years.”

In March of 2018, he suffered a psychotic break. I called law enforcement to help and hospitalize him. I had him forcibly admitted to a hospital for a 72-hour psych hold after the sheriff’s deputies refused too. He got angry and ended up being arrested for domestic violence and removed from our home for 6 weeks.  Sadly, he had more help from our civilian doctors than from the VA. They took him more seriously, and he was able to try new therapies and medication. We tried to so hard to get the loving, supportive, funny, give you the shirt off his back guy he was back.

One of the new medications seemed to help, however he was still suffering depressive episodes. His doctor made the decision to try a new medication; Latuda. One of the listed side effects of this medication (like many other mental health medications) is suicidal ideation.  We were anxious but tried to be optimistic that it would help him.

By day two, I knew something was seriously wrong while he was adjusting to the medication.

At that time, I worked a full-time job, a part-time job, coached my daughters cheer squad, and was team mom for her squad and my oldest son’s football team. I spent day three of his med change at work making plans to figure out how to get him the help he needed while still getting the support the kids and I needed to continue to live with without him temporarily. I got off work, took the kids to practice and anxiously waited out the hours until I could get home and try to reason with him. But when you have a mental health condition it’s not so easy to be rational.

He wasn’t doing well. I telephoned the deputies for help again. I wanted to be escorted into the house to convince him that he needed to admit himself into a hospital to ride out the med change. If not, I wanted to pack a bag for myself and my children. I would then file the court paperwork to have him admitted for a 72-hour psych hold.

The deputies met me at the entrance of our neighborhood when I got off work after picking up my children. Not knowing how my husband would react, I left the children in the van as a precaution. I explained to the deputies that my husband was a disabled veteran. He had bipolar disorder and was on day 3 of a medication change.

They knew the story and what they could possibly be walking into. What I didn’t realize was that it would not matter.

The deputies and I walked into the house where my husband had been working on cooking dinner, something so normal I felt guilty bringing the deputies into our home.

At that point things escalated quickly.

I tried telling him he wasn’t in trouble; I called the deputies to keep the peace. He was holding a kitchen knife because he had been cutting potatoes. He held it behind his back, and I heard the first deputy yell at him to move his hand out from behind his back. I heard my husband yell at the deputies to ‘draw their weapons’ as he moved the knife up to point at them. He was about to commit suicide by cop.

I felt my heart beating in my chest and all I could think was, “I’m about to watch my husband be shot and killed right in front of me in our own home.” I couldn’t bear to see that happen. I quickly stepped outside with my husband’s voice screaming, “Shoot me! Kill me!” echoing in my ears.

Later  I was able to watch the deputies’ body cam footage, I could see my husband walking towards two deputies while they pulled their guns out. The first deputy yelled, “Drop your weapon!” as the deputy backed up into the living room. I watched a third deputy walk through the living room towards the dining room and kitchen where my husband was waiting. He drew his taser.

From his body cam footage, you could see my husband walk out from the kitchen and stop. He lowered his arm to his side and looked at the third deputy who yelled, “Drop your weapon!” When my husband didn’t, the deputy tasered him.

That was his first felony charge: aggravated assault of a law enforcement officer.

When recounting what he remembered of that night, my husband told me later that he felt like he was watching himself with no control over his body. He didn’t remember a lot of what was said or done. The first time he was finally calm and felt in control over his body again was when he was being driven to the county jail.

Even though he had been shot with a taser, my husband struggled with the deputies while being escorted out of our house. As he passed me, he screamed at me. Once outside he stopped walking so, they picked him up off his feet to carry him the rest of the way to the sheriff’s vehicle. Once in front of the passenger side door he picked his feet up and kicked off the van. At that point they brought him to the ground where they rolled him to his belly and the third deputy, the one who deployed his taser, kneeled on my husband’s back to keep him still.

That was his second felony charge: resisting arrest.

In the body cam footage you can hear my husband mumble, “I’m done.” You can hear one of the deputies reply, “Yeah, you’re done!” My husband then said, “No, seriously! I’m done fighting. I’m an asthmatic and you’re on my lungs! I can’t breathe!”

As I sit here and write all this out, the images of the body cam footage continue to haunt me.

Because I was not present when my husband was being removed from the house, I never fully grasped how close we came to be losing my husband until I saw the body cam footage. What I saw will haunt me for the rest of my life.

After pinning my husband to the ground another deputy arrived. My husband, who was having trouble breathing, tried to roll over so he could breathe better. The deputy who’d just arrived rushed over to help the one kneeling on my husband and my husband reacted by using his feet to knock that deputy away in his struggle to roll away and breathe.

That was his third felony charge: Battery of a law enforcement officer.

In the body cam footage, you can hear a deputy say, “Dude pulled a knife on me.”

A deputy who’d just arrived asked, “Are you ok?”

“Yeah, but he wasn’t about to be.”

I took that to mean my husband barely missed being shot.

Eventually, my husband was taken to the county jail. The jail had him admitted for his second 72-hour psych hold within days of his arrest. The paperwork noted he was held for “attempting to commit suicide by cop per suicidal ideation.”

For two months, he was denied bail. Once he got out, he was placed on an ankle monitor where we paid $1 per day. We couldn’t afford a lawyer, so he was given a public defender. In October my husband told his probation officer that he didn’t see a point in living anymore so his PO had him held on a  72-hour psych hold. It was his third in 7 months.

Two years have passed since that awful night.

I tried to get my husband’s case heard either by a veteran’s court or a mental health court, but they refused to help him.

I was frustrated. I was told these two court systems were specifically designed to help people like him.

While investigating our options, I learned that in a jurisdiction south of where we live, the police are trained to deescalate situations like this with people who suffer from mental health conditions without shooting someone with a taser and putting multiple charges on him. I’d also like to think if we had a mental health crisis hotline where we can call and have people trained on mental health instead of relying on law enforcement to handle these situations this wouldn’t be such a common issue.

When my husband was able to finally leave jail, he attended anger management and parenting classes for six months. He tried new medications and therapies. This time, we found a medication that works for him.

He’s been stable for a nearly a year. I finally had my husband and best friend back. He was enjoying life and no longer suicidal. Our youngest baby became the biggest daddy’s girls, and our third child was his daddy’s shadow. He was playing football with our oldest and helping our second child learn stunting for cheer. He went back to school for HVAC so he could support our family better.

He was himself again. We were a family again.

None of that seemed to matter when he appeared in court.

In the state of Florida aggravated assault of a law enforcement officer comes with a three-year minimum prison sentence. My husband faced maximum up to 15 years in prison. If we pled guilty, the prosecutor offered to drop the charge to aggravated assault, which would result in my husband serving  eighteen months in prison, minus two months for time served.

That awful night in August my husband was struck with a taser, kneed in the ribs multiple times, thrown to the concrete, and had an officer kneel on his chest to the point he couldn’t breathe properly. He said a lot of awful things to me and the sheriffs. He was trying to commit suicide by cop. You hear him tell them multiple times, “just kill me! I don’t want to live anymore” and, “if you’re not going to kill me, I’m not talking.”

But we were told that if we went to trial, we would not be able to tell jurors about his diagnosis of bipolar and PTSD. They wouldn’t be allowed to hear about the fact he was on day three of a medication change, or that he was trying to commit suicide by cop. The prosecutor would be able to pick and choose which parts of the body cam footage would be shown the jury, and any parts of him screaming ‘shoot me’, or ‘kill me’ would be cut out. If we mentioned any of this, we could be found in contempt of court.

I was so frustrated. After all of our time rebuilding our lives and my husband working so hard to get better…we felt that we had to take the 18 months deal.

He was jailed two months ago. In Florida you serve 85% of your term and then can get out early for good behavior. Our hope is that he will be out in June of 2021.

I tell you this story, at the risk of receiving mixed responses, because I feel it’s important to understand several things.

I’d like to think that if the police had training on deescalating situations all of this might have been avoided. We may never know. Our law enforcement needs better training. Our VA needs to do better of taking care of our veterans. The VA didn’t consider my husband’s case important for two years and even then, his file wasn’t red flagged for suicidal ideation until after his second arrest and third time being forcibly being admitted for a 72-hour psych hold! Our judicial system failed him by denying him entry into a veterans court or mental health court, and also withholding part of the truth if we went to trial.

I also tell you this because our story, isn’t the only story like this. My husband, Bryan, and I want you all to know…you are not alone.

(You can contact and learn more by visiting Genevieve Johnson’s facebook page.)



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.