Suzanne LaFont: I am a Mother
Speech of Speech of Suzanne LaFont from February 2014 CCIT NYC Press Conference
Hello. My name is Suzanne LaFont. I am a mother, a wife and a professor of anthropology at the City University of New York.
I am here today to show my support for Communities for Crisis Intervention Teams in NYC (CCIT) and the Crisis Invention Act which will reform the way the NYPD responds to medical emergencies.
The other night on the John Steward show, Mayor de Blasio spoke about the police and the community coming together. A bill has been introduced to assist in that mission. In order for there to be good relations between communities and the police force, there needs to be trust and the belief that when called, the police will respond with what they call CPR – Courtesy, Professionalism, and Respect.
Martin Luther King, Jr. once said that ‘Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.’
I have decided not to be silent about “things that matter” because my personal experience provides an example of what can happen when the police respond to a situation without the necessary knowledge and training.
On April 5, 2013, my husband, Anders Peltomaa who suffers from a hereditary condition called Marfan Syndrome, had open-heart surgery. He was released from the hospital on April 10th. The following evening, Anders started to become disoriented. I called 911, informing the operator that Anders had Marfans, had just had open-heart surgery and that he seemed to be having a reaction to his medication.
A few minutes later the NYPD, the NYFD, and EMT showed up. The police were the first to come through the door. I wanted to be sure that the responders knew about my husband’s medical condition so I stepped out on our landing, repeating the fact that my husband had undergone open-heart surgery less than a week ago. Anders, who is 5’ 10” and weighs 140 lbs, came up behind me. He was not armed; he made no threats and did not advance towards the officers.
The lead Officer responding to the call, Anthony Giambra (who is about 6’ 2’ and 220 lbs), immediately said, “Cuff him.” He then pressed Anders against the wall, directly on his surgical wound. Alarmed by the turn of events and worried for my husband’s life, I placed my hand on the officer’s shoulder, pleading with them to treat him with care. He immediately turned to me and said, “You are under arrest.” I was cuffed and led inside our apartment to get my ID. Moments later when the officer led me back into the hallway, I saw Anders lying face down in a pool of blood. He was still cuffed when they flipped him over and dragged him out of the building by his clothing. As they put him in the ambulance, he repeatedly called for me. However, I was already in the police car and unable to respond or comfort him. That is the last I saw of my husband for next 19 hours.
Although I stated in the 911 call that my husband did not have a history of mental illness, the police deemed him to be an “emotionally disturbed person.” This catchall label is made by police without proper training. Anyone who the police determine is acting in a “not normal” way can be labelled as an EDP. Determining what is “not normal” is highly subjective. For me, “not normal” is calling 911 for an ambulance and then experiencing the trauma of having your husband beaten and being arrested. During the encounter I have described Anders sustained an injury to his chin which required 5 stitches, a dislocated thumb, bruises on the his wrists, sides, knees, and back. He spent two days in the hospital.
I was taken to the 20th precinct where Giambra said that he arrested me because he had to “teach” me that “you can NEVER touch a police officer.” I could not imagine that anyone would think that this was a “teachable” moment.
While fingerprinting me he claimed that restraint was always best. He further revealed his lack of knowledge by noting, “Your husband is going to be fine; he’ll be home before you.” How could anyone think that an open-heart surgery patient who had been throw so hard on the ground as to split open his chin would “be fine?” In fact, many heart patients are given blood thinners. Fortunately, Anders was not on them. We were informed by a health care professional that he could have bled out from his chin injury if he had been on the thinners.
Then he would have become just another statistic, like the statistics we have heard/will hear about today – an unnecessary fatality due to the police’s lack of understanding, knowledge and training.
As for me: I was offered a plea which involved sealing the case after 6 months if I had no further arrests. Most people accept such pleas to make their cases go away. Many do not have the time or money for the legal fees necessary to fight. However, after 9 months and 8 court appearances, the case against me was dismissed “in the furtherance of justice.” The judge in his response to my lawyer’s motion to dismiss noted that, “the police had mishandled a call to a medical emergency and ended up injuring an already sick man.”
I support the movement of CCIT NYC to convince Mayor de Blasio to empanel a group of stakeholders to create a formal CIT model in NYC that would put an end to tragedies like what happened to my family and so many others.
The police should be here to protect all of us. We should never have to feel that we need to protect our loved ones from the police. I hope that I never have to call 911 again. Frankly, I am afraid to do so.
Everyone one of us needs to be able to know that a call to 911 will be responded to by trained professionals who will treat us and our loved ones with the care and compassion we need and deserve.
Rights of Imprisoned People with Psychiatric Disabilities
A Statement from the Rights of Imprisoned People with Psychiatric Disabilities
The members of RIPPD have been strong supporters of Community Crisis Intervention teams for many years. Rights for Imprisoned People with Psychiatric Disabilities (RIPPD) is a grass roots, direct action organization, united to demand justice and social change in particular for those who have been in jail or prison who have suffered from the unjust criminal justice system.
CCIT has been a focus for RIPPD’s advocacy agenda. We have campaigned endlessly for CCIT. For years RIPPD has been in the fore front in advocating for CCIT to be part of the NYPD’s response to 911 calls for people who are in emotional crisis. We ran a strong campaign holding meetings with precinct captains and community liaisons and the administration at 1 Police Plaza. We held protests and rallies to make the public aware of the consequences that occur when the police are not trained to deal with a crisis situation. We have been relentless in demanding that CCIT become part of the NYPD because we as family members and consumers experience firsthand the horrible consequences that occur when untrained NYPD officers answer a 911 call. Not only don’t the responders know how to deescalate a situation which results in death but their lack of training provokes violence and physical harm to those involved which often results in people going to jail, the least appropriate place for a person in crisis.
Now with the new Coalition we are finally at a place where we have a chance to change the negative responses to 911 calls to positive responses. The NYC mental health community is ready and willing to partner with the NYPD to bring about this change. Cities all over the country have established CCIT and the result has reduced harm to both the police officer and the community. It is time for New York City to get on board. NYPD needs to catch up with the rest of the nation and make CCIT part of the NYPD.
By Eric Munoz, Service Coordinator, Community Access
I prepared the following statement for the 9/25 CCIT Press Conference at City Hall. When asked to reproduce it here for this website, I was glad to. This is a cause very close to my heart.
Caring, selfless, and talented: these are the qualities that stood out to me about my family member Samuel Cruz. I recall first meeting Sammy at Thanksgiving dinner, November 2012. Sammy at first appeared to be shy meeting his other family for the first time. But as we all began to break bread together, Sammy with great comfort began to share his passion about life and his successes. Sammy and my aunt met in Puerto Rico during their college years while pursuing a bachelor’s degree in art. He expressed happiness in being able to share his art talent with others.
I was devastated to hear about his death.
I was angry, but also more disappointed in law officials for the approach they took which resulted in Sammy’s passing. I imagined the events unfolding with the police breaking into his house, his sanctuary, tasered him, and when the taser failed to immobilize him, they shot him because he responded in self-defense as he felt attacked. Law enforcement must first let go of what they believe they know about, not the mental health population, but the misunderstood, and become more educated on what they need know. The police are here to serve people of all classes, but they will only be successful in effective policing if they let go of their aggressive approaches, and approach the people with understanding. This understanding of people with mental health concerns can only be achieved through a comprehensive Crisis Intervention Team model.
In closing, I stand before you today not only as an employee of Community Access, but as a resident of New York City; as I learned, just like in math, many times we focus too much on the problem rather than working on the solution, and the solution here is to create a Crisis Intervention Team.