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  • Michael Mullan

Shooting of Police Officer by Mentally Ill Suspect

Tragically a 20-year veteran of Clermont County (Ohio) Sheriff's Office, has died in the line-of-duty, as a result of shots fired during a barricade against a 20-year old man who appears to have serious mental health issues. Wade Edward Winn shot and killed Deputy Brewer and injured Deputy DeRose, after a 12-hour standoff on Saturday night-Sunday morning. Much of the knowledge about what happened has been garnished from an Instagram Live broadcast by Winn during the barricade. Despite the fact that the police in this instance were well-intended and appear to have followed proper protocols in terms of approaching the individual suffering from a mental health breakdown in a calm and non-antagonistic manner, and by attempting to deescalate the situation, nonetheless a fatal outcome occurred.

It all began around 7pm on Saturday evening with a 911 call from a male caller who claimed that someone was in his home. Winn later told the dispatcher that he was suicidal and was armed. Upon arriving at the scene, the police discovered that Winn had barricaded himself in the apartment at St. Andrews Drive in Pierce Township, Clermont County, Ohio. Despite attempts, they could not establish open communication with Winn. Based on the apparent involvement of mental illness, the police on the scene requested a multi-agency response team. Ten minutes later, the Crisis intervention team arrived and tried to negotiate with, asking him to surrender. Over one hour after the initial 911 phone-call, around dozen shots were fired by Winn from the apartment. At 10:37 p.m., more shots were fired from inside the apartment through the wall, as the police entered hoping to save Winn’s life. 12 hours since it all began, at 6:30 a.m., Winn surrendered to police.

During the Live Instagram post, Winn communicated to his followers that he had fired at police, but that he did not believe that the individuals were members of the police at all. In the background of the post, the crisis intervention team can be heard via a bullhorn saying they intended to do no harm to Winn and wanted him to surrender so they could help him. Had this event occurred before the advent of the Memphis Crisis Intervention Teams, there may have been an alternative result, albeit it with only a change of who the victim would be. Had this event occurred before the late 1980s, the police involved would not have followed best practice in terms of how to interact with the mentally ill. It is likely that the police would have taken a more ‘crime control’ approach which could have resulted in the injury or death of Winn in the attempt by police to physically restrain the individual, as opposed to attempting the CIT approach with the resulting death of Deputy Brewer. This case demonstrates the complexity that occurs when a person suffering from a severe mental illness has access to guns and presents a danger to others or to themselves. The CIT model of policing is intended at bringing about less deaths, namely a reduction in the deaths of those experiencing the mental breakdown. However, as this case shows, each person and each diagnosis of mental illness is not the same and require a range of solutions. It also shows that the CIT model is not perfect and does not work in all instances. Here, despite the best intentions of the police, they came in the firing line of the mentally ill. It has been widely reported that Winn had a significant criminal record. However, much of this criminal background was largely limited to arrests for drug use. That being said, and of relevance for the current discussion, Winn was found guilty of improperly handling firearms in a motor vehicle. This case as such does raise questions about the access to guns by individuals who suffer from severe mental illnesses, like Winn.

It also raises other broad policy questions on the issue of dangerousness. Unfortunately, perhaps due to the highlighting of some high-profile cases in the media, there is an association in the minds of the public between mental illness and violence. This case exacerbates this myth. Social science studies have shown that there is no substantial direct correlation between mental illness and violent crime. That being said, particularly at this early stage, concerns must be had for the victim in this case, who was attempting to help a member of the public, and tragically paid the price of this generosity with his life. Given that Winn was clearly out of touch with reality during the barricade, it is probable that his defense lawyers will raise an insanity defense. At the very least, given that this will be a capital trial, evidence of Winn’s mental illness should at the least be introduced as a mitigating factor at the sentencing stage of the trial.

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