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Police lean on training to diffuse crisis during encounter with mentally ill man

The powerful man was the same person firefighters had to rescue from a billboard catwalk in early September

East Palo Alto and Menlo Park police were able to safely take into custody Sept. 18 a mentally ill man who was wielding the spear-like tip he’d broken off from a wrought-iron gate and who was threatening to harm himself or possibly officers, East Palo Alto Chief Albert Pardini said in a Sept. 20 post on the department's Facebook page.

The officers used crisis de-escalation techniques to try to diffuse the situation and ultimately used a Taser to restrain the man, Pardini wrote. But police did not fire a single shot, even though he came towards them more than once.

The incident began when East Palo Alto patrol officers responded to a call about a man who was throwing Facebook bicycles into the street at Rainier’s Service Station, 1905 East Bayshore Road, on Sept. 18 at 12:47 p.m. A second caller reported the man was walking in the middle of the street in front of cars, Pardini wrote.

“Officers were very familiar with the male who they have contacted numerous times due to his psychiatric crisis incidents,” Pardini noted.

The man is the same person who had stranded himself on the catwalk of a billboard in the same area of the city on Sept. 3 and had to be rescued by firefighters using a makeshift crane.

Officers have encountered significant challenges when dealing with the man in the past, including episodes of violence, Pardini said.

“He can be very dangerous when he is in a state of psychiatric crisis,” Pardini wrote. “He is in excellent physical shape and has the body and strength of a professional athlete.”

The first officer who arrived on scene at 12:51 p.m. began using crisis intervention training to communicate with and calm the agitated man. The man began walking away from the officers toward San Francisquito Creek, Pardini said.

The man was irate, so officers used a technique known as “time and distance” to communicate with him while not provoking a confrontation. When the man reached the creek, he climbed onto the concrete ledge and threatened to jump into the creek. The officers continued talking to him.

The man eventually came down from the ledge, but he walked away from the officers and down a dirt path along the creek. He continued down another path near the 100 block of Verbena Drive. Still talking to him, the officers followed. When he reached the 200 block of Verbena, he sat down in the middle of the road for a couple of minutes, then got up and started shadow boxing. He then walked to the 200 block of Azalia Drive, Pardini said.

Officers called on the Menlo Park police to close off streets so that officers could maintain a safe distance from the aggressive man and to keep motorists from running into him. East Palo Alto police don’t carry Tasers, but Menlo Park officers do, which offered police a less-than-lethal option in case the man became violent, Pardini said.

Still on Azalia Drive, the officers kept talking to the man and had the dispatcher attempt to call his psychiatrist, in the hopes of persuading him to go to the hospital for care.

But the man broke off the top decorative piece of a homeowner’s wrought-iron gate with his hand and held it like a weapon. He alternated between putting it to the back of his neck and threatening to harm himself and holding it up in a threatening manner. He advanced toward officers, who retreated.

The man continued closing the distance between himself and a Menlo Park police officer, however. The officer then used a Taser, which caused the man to fall to the ground, and police restrained him. An ambulance that had been waiting took him to the hospital for psychiatric evaluation, Pardini said.

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Posted by whatever
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 22, 2019 at 4:36 pm

A brief history of mental health care in California.

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