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Fatal Consequences: Police Response to Mental Health Calls


Sep 17, 2023

Mischa Fay was a typical child growing up around Lake Winnipesaukee, enjoying boating, Star Wars, and pizza. He had a love for hockey, spending time with his sisters, and supporting the Boston Bruins with his dad. He was known to be kind and soft-spoken, and it seemed like he had a bright future ahead of him. However, in 2022, Fay’s mental health started to deteriorate. Records from the Gilford police department revealed that they were called to his home multiple times to assist his family with his mental health issues and behavior.

Then, on New Year’s Day in 2023, Mischa Fay’s mother called 911 for help with her son, who was acting erratically and armed with a knife. Two Gilford officers, who were familiar with his struggles, responded to the call. Within two minutes, Officer Nathan Ayotte discharged his Taser, which had little effect, and Sgt. Doug Wall fired a single shot into Fay’s chest, resulting in his death. Fay was only 17 years old.

Nearly nine months later, the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office has yet to release any report or ruling on whether the use of deadly force was justified in this case. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident in New Hampshire. According to a Concord Monitor analysis, over 60% of people shot and killed by police in the state over the past decade had a mental illness.

Despite efforts to increase training and awareness, the statistics remain unchanged. In the eight fatal police shootings since the analysis was published, five of the individuals had a history of mental illness. Some reforms, like expanded Crisis Intervention Team training and a national mental health help hotline, have been implemented, but others, such as the creation of a mental health incident review board, have not gained much traction.

Experts argue that there are still obstacles to effective and humane responses to mental health crises, and more investment and attention to the issue are needed. The current investigation into Fay’s case is narrow, focusing on whether criminal charges should be filed against the officers. It does not address alternative approaches to de-escalate the situation or offer recommendations for police departments to follow in responding to mental health emergencies.

The pattern of fatal encounters involving mental health crises highlights the limitations of the state’s mental health infrastructure, which relies on police instead of health professionals to handle emergencies. This raises important questions about how these situations can be better managed and, ultimately, prevented.

The article goes on to highlight other fatal encounters involving individuals with mental illness, underscoring the complexity of responding to acute mental health crises. It emphasizes the need for reform and improvement in the state’s mental health infrastructure.

By Editor

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