OKLAHOMA COUNTY, Okla. (KFOR) – Residents and law enforcement are reacting to the U.S. Department of Justice’s investigation into alleged civil rights violations by the state of Oklahoma, the city of Oklahoma City, and Oklahoma City Police Department.
The DOJ is looking into claims the state discriminated against people with disabilities, leading to unnecessary contact with police.
Jessica Early said that was exactly what happened to her loved one.
“He’s not a monster,” said Early. “He’s just somebody that was in crisis.”
Early said her family member, who suffered from mental illness, has been inside the Oklahoma County jail for nearly a year. He was sent there after having a mental break down.
Early’s family called 911 during the incident, but things quickly shifted and dozens of officers showed up, which led to a standoff and gunfire.
“You can’t approach things like that (when dealing with mental illness),” said Early. “That’s going to escalate the situation and turn it into something that way offsets from what it actually is.”
Early said she was not surprised to hear about the DOJ’s investigation into claims Oklahoma has discriminated against people with disabilities.
The probe will also investigate how law enforcement has responded to 911 calls involving people suffering from a mental crisis.
Lt. Gene Bradley said his job is to deescalate mental health calls when they come into the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office.
“I have to be proactive,” said Bradley, who is the mental health project coordinator for OCSO. “Try to prevent the mental health crisis from happening.”
Bradley said the office will get 100 calls per week from someone with mental health issues. He said one woman he visits frequently used to call 911 dozens of times a week and the office was on the verge of filing charges against her for misuse of 911.
“I’ve been involved with her for three months and in that three months we’ve had one 911 call from her residence,” said Bradley.
The deputy said his training has allowed him to recognize if someone needs mental help.
“Instead of me thinking they’re being oppositional or defiant to me, I can understand that they might have some other things and change my approach to solve the situation or the problem,” said Bradley.
The DOJ investigation will also look into whether or not the state has failed to offer community-based mental health services to people in Oklahoma County.