Chris Jensen has spent the months since his schizophrenic son was killed during a confrontation with two Pasco police officers thinking about what could have been done differently.
The former Pasco police officer and city councilman says the local mental health system is broken. He questions the way police use deadly force when dealing with those not of sound mind.
The voices in his son Brad Jensen’s head became too difficult for his son to deal with in the months leading up to the shooting last July, he said.
Brad, 34, slipped into a state of crisis that included suicidal thoughts and severe depression, said his father. A noose was found hanging in the garage of a house where Brad lived.
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Chris understands why the shooting was ruled justified by prosecutors, but struggles with the belief that more should have been done to get his son the mental health help he desperately needed.
There were several missed opportunities by Pasco police, mental health officials and the court system in the weeks before the shooting, Chris said.
“There are glaring things that if handled different the officers wouldn’t have been there that night,” he told the Herald.
Chris plans to speak today about his son’s death and the mental health system in the Tri-Cities at a panel discussion at the Columbia Basin Badger Club.
Brad Jensen was killed July 28 after Pasco police were called to a house on Desert Place when he reportedly threatened suicide by cop.
It was just a few weeks after the noose was found, and Brad broke down while under the influence of alcohol and methamphetamines.
Police say the officers fired seven to nine times after Brad came at them with a knife and ignored their commands. Investigators say Brad had three knives with him.
Twenty days earlier, he had emailed a counselor shortly after posting to Facebook that he was “sorry” and felt helpless.
The email read, in part, “feeling suicidal but don’t know how to explain or feel comfortable talking to people about personal stuff. I feel the only solution is to take my own life and others agree.”
The counselor tried to contact Brad but couldn’t and ultimately called police, said his dad. Officers went to Brad’s house and arrested him on a warrant for failing to make a court payment.
Brad did not request help from police or make any statements about being in crisis, said Capt. Ken Roske, Pasco police spokesman.
“The counselor was called back by our officer and advised that Brad was cooperative, not making any suicidal threats and was going to be booked into jail if the counselor needed to do further followup,” Roske said.
Chris chose not to bail Brad out, feeling his son was safer in jail and would get mental health help, considering his history, he told the Herald.
A court order, called a “least restrictive alternative,” also was in place, allowing Brad to be involuntarily taken to inpatient treatment if he was off his medication or a danger to himself.
Also, Chris says he worked with his son’s counselor and Crisis Response to try toget Brad into treatment.
When Brad appeared in court a day after his arrest, he was released on the condition he pay a $350 fine within a week.
“The judge never inquired about his mental state or why he was brought before the court,” Chris wrote in a letter, called “Brad’s Story,” outlining his son’s case.
“Throughout all of the contacts with law enforcement and the criminal justice system, and despite an active least restrictive agreement, nothing was ever flagged to the judge, Benton County jail or Pasco police that Brad was under an active least alternative agreement.”
Chris tried repeatedly to contact the mental health counselor, with limited success, he said. Brad apparently failed to show up for an appointment. A short while later, he was shot and killed.
After the shooting, his father tried to get information from the counselor and Crisis Response about their contact with Brad. But the counselor and officials wouldn’t talk about the case, citing confidentiality.
In the months since the shooting, Chris has looked into what led up to his son’s death, looked for ways it could have been handled differently and what needs to change in order to prevent a similar tragedy for another family.
Chris contends officers should have used other alternatives to try to get him under control before shooting him. He also questions why the officers fired so many times and why less lethal options weren’t tried.
He compared Brad’s case to the recent shooting of Antonio Zambrano-Montes, saying both incidents show that police are not adequately trained to de-escalate crisis situations.
Zambrano-Montes was shot Feb. 10 after police say he threw at least one rock at officers.
Chris told the Herald there needs to be more discussion and training focused on dealing with people in crisis.
“Do we as a community accept the fact that the use of deadly force is acceptable when police are confronted with someone who is not of sound mind?” he said.
Pasco police officials have defended the department’s training, saying officers are well above the state standard for training hours. Officers recently underwent training to deal specifically with crisis situations, Roske said.
Chris said that while there needs to be major improvements to the complex topic of mental health care, there have been encouraging steps in the community recently.
A mental health diversion program was recently introduced in the Tri-Cities. It allows officers to take low-level, nonviolent offenders with symptoms of mental illness to a 16-bed crisis facility at Lourdes Counseling Center in Richland.
Roske said that because Brad was arrested on a warrant, he would not have been eligible to be taken to the facility under the current guidelines.
Richland Capt. Mike Cobb said police officials already are meeting to talk about the issue and brainstorm ideas to fix the relationship many see as broken between the mental health system and law enforcement.
“We are constantly talking about it and looking for ways to improve,” Cobb said.
Chris Jensen questions himself daily about what he could have done to help save his son, he said. He has thought a lot about coming forward with Brad’s story, ultimately deciding it was necessary to bring about change.
He is hopeful discussions will lead to changes in the mental health care system so situations like his son’s can be prevented in the future.
“The potential for something to happen like this in the future exists unless something changes,” he said.