Responding To 2 Deaths, County Recommended Reforms In 2015 But Hasn’t Updated Public On If They’ve Been Implemented

Fairfax County Police roll call. Courtesy NBC 4

(5-4-20) Five years ago, the police department and sheriff’s office in Fairfax County, Virginia, came under fire because of two separate deaths: an alleged coverup of a police shooting outside a home and the death of Natasha McKenna, a woman with mental illness, inside the jail.

Because of the public outcry, the county’s governing body (the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors) created an Ad Hoc Police Practices Review Commission to review what had happened and recommend reforms to reduce future police shootings and inmate deaths. I served on that commission and among its myriad of recommendations in its final report were 24 specifically about mental health.

It’s not uncommon for a blue ribbon panel to publish a report, only to have those recommendations sit on a shelf gathering dust. To insure this didn’t happen, the county periodically listed on its website a progress report.

Unfortunately, the last update posted on the website was on June 2018 – nearly two years ago. That’s not a good sign.

One possible explanation for the lapse is that the two elected officials most responsible for pushing reforms – former Board Supervisor Sharon Bulova and Supervisor John Cook – are no longer in office.

Regardless, the public is entitled to know which of the commission’s recommendations still haven’t been implemented and why.

I’m curious too if your community adopted any of these mental health reforms.

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NYC Doctor: A Real Hero & Casualty Of COVID-19 Who Should Be Remembered

(5-1-20) The death of Dr. Lorna Breen has received widespread attention but I want to memorialize her and remind the public that there are many reasons why someone chooses to end their own life – a lack of moral character is NOT one of them.

I am grateful for all the good that Dr. Breen did and for her father’s bravery in speaking out during his family’s pain to warn others about how COVID-19 is not only threatening Americans’ physical health but mental health as well.

If you feel overwhelmed or know someone who is, please contact the national suicide lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Father of late ER doctor who died by suicide says she ‘just ran out of steam’

The father of top Manhattan ER doctor Lorna Breen — who committed suicide after working on the front lines of the battle against the coronavirus — said in a new interview that “she put her life on the line to take care of other people.”

“She was a doctor, every bit of the word that a doctor should be,” Philip Breen said on CNN’s “Cuomo Prime Time.”

“She put her life on the line to take care of other people. She was in the trenches, so to speak, right in the front line as people were dying left and right around her,” the retired surgeon said about his 49-year-old daughter, who had become infected herself and returned to work after recovering.

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Who Shows Love To A Seriously Mentally Ill Convicted Felon? Tom Mullen Did & Taught Me Important Lessons.

Four Novices in Esopus 1962 — 1963 Tom Mullen on far left. Marist College courtesy of  Rick Mundy.

(4-28-20) News articles about how difficult it is for many Americans to practice social distancing and self isolation caused me to think of Thomas Peter Mullen, the founder of Passageway in Miami, Florida, and the valuable lessons that he taught me.

With pure white hair that tapered into an equally white beard and a fondness for wearing blue jeans with a tattered Navy blazer, Mullen lived modestly and enjoyed engaging in long discussion about morality, spirituality, and an individual’s mission and purpose in life.

I remember his staff at the halfway house that he ran keeping him occupied in another part of the building when a pharmaceutical rep dropped by with samples of the antipsychotic Abilify.  Passageway operated on a barebones budget and the staff was happy to receive free samples, but they knew Mullen would go into a tirade if he encountered the rep. Mullen believed drug companies should give medicines free to those who needed them, not profit from their sales.

Mullen had grown up in a tough Irish Catholic neighborhood in the Bronx and after his father had been swept overboard and drowned during a nor’easter while fishing in the Atlantic, Mullen’s mother had asked the Marist Brothers, a religious order dedicated to helping the underprivileged, to take her grieving teenage son under its wing. He joined the order and was eventually sent to Miami where he ran a methadone clinic but soon got into trouble for permitting social workers to discuss the pros and cons of abortion with pregnant drug abusers.

He left the church to launch a halfway house in 1979 for seriously mentally ill felons being freed back into the Miami community. By the time we met, Mullen had overcome tremendous obstacles in keeping Passageway open, including having ten thousand residents sign a petition demanding that it be forced to move from the residents’ neighborhood after a newspaper disclosed its location.

Mullen was dogged and resilient – but this blog is about loneliness and forgiveness.

Let’s begin with a murder.

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Family Repeatedly Warned Authorities Before Attacks That Jared Kuntz’s Mental Health Had Deteriorated But Tragically No One Listened

Police mug shot of Jared Kuntz


That message was posted by Jared Robert Kuntz on his Facebook page an hour before he allegedly attacked four hikers on the M Trail near the University of Montana in Missoula earlier this month.

The 38 year-old Kuntz has been charged with first attacking a woman who was hiking with her teenage son. The boy had fallen behind his mom. The woman suffered a fractured skull. The boy said Kuntz spotted him and chased him down the trail. Kuntz reportedly then removed his clothing, hid in bushes and when two brothers hiking on the trail spotted him, demanded their clothes. The brothers claim Kuntz charged at them. One of the brothers stabbed Kuntz with a buck knife but that didn’t stop him from continuing to chase them.

Since that arrest, Kuntz’s brother has detailed how he and his mother repeatedly warned authorities that Jared’s mental health had deteriorated and that he had threatened them. Yet, no one listened even though  Kuntz already was on probation for a previous incident.

Dr. Gary Mihelish, President of NAMI Helena, forwarded me Jacob Kuntz’s narrative about his brother’s illness. Dr. Mihelish wrote, “Although I wasn’t surprised, it was especially difficult and painful to read right after watching “Bedlam,” and “The Definition of Insanity” documentaries this week on PBS. We can and must do better for our fellow citizens.”

Here is Jacob Kuntz account.

My name is Jacob Kuntz. The perpetrator of the heinous and senseless acts of violence committed on the “M” hiking trail in Missoula, MT on Friday April 10th, 2020 is my brother, Jared Kuntz. I am writing this in the hopes that the victims, their families, friends, and the community of Missoula, Montana will find true justice.

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New York Releases Prisoners To Avoid COVID-19 Infections, But Not The Seriously Mentally Ill

Courtesy NPR/Getty Images

LATE BREAKING NEWS: The Cuomo administration has agreed to remove the ‘significant mental illness’ disqualifier and review all parolees who were previously disqualified to confirm whether any of them now qualify for release.” The question now is: where will they go?

(4-23-20) Many jails across our country are releasing prisoners vulnerable to Covid-19, but New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration has decided not to extend that mercy to inmates with “significant mental illness.”

The governor announced several weeks ago that he would begin freeing prisoners who were in jail because of “technical parole violations.” Technical violations are instances where a parolee fails to follow the rules of his/her release, such as maintaining employment, paying court fees, and showing up for appointments with parole officers.

The seriously mentally ill often have trouble following such rules, violate their parole, and end up back in jail.

The state has added the seriously mentally ill to a no early release list with inmates convicted of sex crimes, domestic violence, violent crimes involving weapons, and homeless prisoners who don’t have an “existing” residence.

Jennifer J. Parish, Director of Criminal Justice Advocacy at the Urban Center, a civil rights advocacy nonprofit based in New York City, called the administration’s actions “blatant discrimination,” and noted: “This exclusion of people with serious mental health concerns is just the latest example of New York incarcerating people with mental health challenges instead of providing for their needs in the community.”

New York already is being sued for keeping seriously mentally ill prisoners in jails and prisons after they have completed their sentences.

That’s right – after they’ve done their time they remain incarcerated because there are no programs for them if they were released. No shelter, no evidence based recovery efforts.

The state justifies its actions by claiming the seriously mentally ill continue to be a danger to themselves and others.  So instead of providing services to help those who are sick, the state is punishing them for being ill.

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Social Distancing Doesn’t Mean You Can’t Be Social & Help Those In Need

(4-21-20) Social distancing is the wrong term. It should be called ‘physical distancing’ but we should continue to be social through phone calls, emails and services such as Facetime and Zoom.

That’s the message Gabe Howard, one of my favorite advocates, is spreading as part of a creative effort by the National Alliance On Mental Illness Tennessee state affiliate to help its members and those with mental illnesses stay connected and support each other during the Covid-19 pandemic.

NAMI Tennessee Executive Director Jeff Fladen launched NAMI AT HOME BUT NOT ALONE a few weeks ago and it has proven to be popular and helpful.

“I don’t know about you but for me it is getting harder to stay away from people every day,” Fladen explained. “Things are so confusing… I truly encourage people to try to be as patient as possible while our medical and healthcare community can figure out a good balance between saving our economy and avoiding unnecessary risk. I hope and pray that those with mental illness and other disabilities are part of this equation.”

NAMI Tennessee has conducted online support groups via the Internet and yesterday it hosted a live Facebook chat. Gabe Howard, author of Mental Illness is an A**hole, has contributed advice videos about such topics as how families can avoid conflicts while cooped up in a home.

On April 27, Roger and Denise Stewart will present Unfractured Lives on the NAMI Tennessee Facebook page at 3 pm CST/4 pm Eastern. During it, they will share their personal stories about how a husband and wife – one of whom has an illness and the other is a caregiver – navigate the challenges and triumphs of a life together.

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