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Video: Mo. chief defends cops' use of force in struggle with ill man

Chief says the video illustrates the continuum of force that officers are trained to use

By Robert Patrick
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

ST. LOUIS  City police are investigating two officers' use of force in a violent encounter last month with a mentally ill man whose family recorded part of it on video.

Mike Keller, executive director of the Independence Center, which is a "community-based rehabilitation program for adults with severe and persistent mental illnesses," said he complained to police after seeing the video.

"I looked at it and it made me sick," Keller said. He said Mario L. Crump, 47, a client at his center, had suffered two broken hands, six broken fingers and a head wound that required five staples to close.

Keller said in an interview that he believed the video represented a failure in police training.

Crump, reached late Monday, shortly after his release on bail, called the experience "eye-opening." He refused to say more before consulting with a lawyer. On Wednesday, Crump said that he wanted to talk but that his lawyer had advised against it. His lawyer did not return messages seeking comment.

Court documents related to Crump's arrest say his family called police March 21 to their home in the 4300 block of Lee Avenue to help manage him after he urinated on the kitchen floor and exposed himself to an adult relative.

The documents also say that Crump poses a danger to the community because of his psychological issues, his violent reaction to officers and multiple assault convictions among more than 20 arrests, "many of which were for violent offenses."

About 36 seconds of an encounter already under way were recorded by the relative, showing a violent struggle among Crump, seated in a chair, and the two St. Louis officers.

Crump flails his legs and knocks Officer Gregory Schaffer back into a chair or couch. Officer Matthew Boester then swings a baton as he shouts at Crump, with expletives, to put his hands behind his back to be handcuffed.

Crump's feet connect with both officers. Boester's baton hits Crump multiple times, and Schaffer hits Crump at least once with a fist.

His relatives can be heard shouting for him to comply.

"Just go with 'em, Mario," a man calls at one point, later adding, "Mario, just cooperate."

Crump stops lashing out at the end of the video, and it stops shortly after he shakes his head back and forth.

Chief Sam Dotson said that he saw the video Friday and immediately ordered an internal investigation. But, he cautioned, that order shouldn't be read as faulting the officers. He said that the video had to be examined in context and that the "totality of the incident" needed to be understood.

Dotson said he wanted the public to have confidence in the department.

Dotson said he didn't believe that officers knew when they arrived that Crump was mentally ill. They knew only that a relative had called and said that someone was acting strangely and needed to be removed, he said.

The incident began at 11:30 p.m. and lasted 15 to 20 minutes, he said.

He doesn't know at what point the video was taken, but said that "it's not that they walked in and started hitting the guy."

Crump was charged March 22 with three misdemeanors: resisting arrest and two counts of third-degree assault on a law enforcement officer.

The probable cause statement Schaffer filed with the charges says, "Defendant's wife advised that this is not unusual behavior for defendant as he has psychological issues and has substance abuse problems." It continues, "When my partner and I attempted to speak with defendant, he adopted a fighting stance and began striking and kicking us as we attempted to handcuff him."

Keller said his center served people who suffer from schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or related conditions.

On the day the video was made, Keller said, Crump's family recognized that he was "melting down" and called police for help in getting him to a hospital.

"The family called because he was really ill," Keller said, describing Crump as nearly catatonic and unable to respond after urinating on the floor.

Keller acknowledged that he did not know exactly what happened with police before the video began.

"The family was under the impression ... that these officers responded as they did because he wasn't answering their questions," he said.

Crump was taken to Barnes-Jewish Hospital. Keller said medical workers said Crump should come back later, after the swelling in his hands subsided but within 72 hours. Keller said that to his knowledge jail officials never took him back.

Maggie Crane, a spokeswoman for Mayor Francis Slay, said she could not release jail health information on Crump, citing federal privacy law. But she said that everyone booked into the jail was screened and that any medical issue "will be treated right there on the spot."

Keller said he had been told that Crump was to see his primary doctor, a hand specialist and his psychologist on Wednesday.

Crump has been a client of the Independence Center for less than a year, Keller said. He said the relative shared the video because "he wanted someone to know about what had been done to his grandfather."

Keller said police were supposed to use negotiation with the mentally ill to de-escalate a situation. "You try to talk as long as you can," he said, and "get greater help if you need it."

Both officers received Crisis Intervention Training in the academy, Dotson said, but they are not doctors. "At 11:30 at night, when you call 911, there aren't any psychologists coming," he said.

Dotson said the video illustrated the continuum of force that officers were trained to use. Crump was ignoring verbal commands, and officers employed open hands and closed fists. The next step, he said is often pepper spray, a Taser or a collapsible baton.

Dotson said that after Crump is partially handcuffed, his resistance ends, as does the officers' use of force.

The officers suffered bruises but refused medical help, he said.

Crump was taken to Barnes, and Dotson said he did believe that doctors there recommended follow up care. Crump was then treated by medical personnel at the jail.

Dotson pointed out that Crump's mug shot shows no black eyes, bloody eye or fat lip.

He said that officers documented the incident well, but he declined to share additional details, saying it would violate an agreement with prosecutors about commenting on open cases.

Dotson said he had ordered a review of the CIT training, to see whether anything needed to be done to improve it.

Keller said there might be one benefit in the "horrible event." He explained, "I hope that it's in a better investment in CIT."

Copyright 2014 the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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