JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - What happens when those who suffer with mental illnesses hurt themselves or someone else? How often are law enforcement officers forced to take responsibility for sometimes dangerous inmates? For those who need help and their families, we have some answers.
Zebulum James was diagnosed at 17 as a paranoid schizophrenic. In 2015, he was 22-years-old and not taking his medication. He is now charged with killing two innocent women, one as she pumped gas in Jackson, the other as she walked to a restaurant from a hotel in Ridgeland.
His sister shared her grief for the victims and her brother.
“He wouldn’t have done that if he was in his right mind," Keturah James said. “He just wouldn’t have did it. I just wish they was still alive and I just... I can’t do nothing about it but say I’m sorry.”
James, who is now 25, has been found fit to stand trial. He faces charges in Hinds and Madison County. He was being housed at the Madison County Detention Center waiting 3 years for a bed at the State Hospital at Whitfield.
Devin Williams has been in the Hinds County Detention Center since June of 2018. He is charged with stabbing his mother to death. His family says he has a mental condition and they tried over and over again to get help for him.
Tiffany Williams said, “We went from the hospitals, we went to both of the court houses, everybody turned us down. Now my mama gone, my brother gone; all because won’t nobody listen,” said Tiffany Williams.
Devin Williams is still being held at the Hinds County jail. His trial is scheduled for September.
According to the Mississippi Department of Mental Health, as of July 22nd, there were 4 individuals waiting in jail for commitment for adult acute psychiatric services. These are individuals DMH has received commitment orders for.
DMH tells 3 On Your Side that they give priority to people waiting in jail for admission to inpatient programs. Mississippi State Hospital’s Forensic Services Unit provides pre-trial evaluations and treatment for felony level criminal defendants from Circuit Courts in all 82 counties. Of those waiting for admission to this unit, twenty-six are in jails. In addition there are ten people waiting for an initial evaluation.
We talked with the President of the Mississippi Sheriff's Association and Jasper County Sheriff, Randy Johnson. He says sheriffs across the state are concerned about housing those with mental issues.
“It’s a huge problem, it’s brought up at every conference we have. The issues we have trying to house mentally ill patients or inmates with special needs in our facility,” said Sheriff Johnson.
Sheriff Johnson says it can be dangerous, adding, “It is a danger. You never know how they’re gonna react and, quite often, these people are violent and they’re hard to deal with.”
Jones County Sheriff Alex Hodge is a board member of the National Sheriff’s Association which made up of 3,000 sheriffs across the nation. He says it is time to stop kicking the can on this issue.
Sheriff Hodge told us, “Educating people and letting people know that there are a lot of people out there who are suffering from various, different types of mental illness and I think just that alone is a first step.”
Sheriff Johnson and Sheriff Hodge say jail is not the place for someone with a mental illness.
“We’re not trained as it relates to housing," Sheriff Hodge stated. "I don’t have padded cells, I don’t have a medical staff. I don’t have all of those things that if, in fact, someone is suffering from a mental illness - the last place they need to be is in a jail.”
“I think there’s eighteen beds for the whole state that does the evaluation and then when they’re turned over to Whitfield, they may sit in a jail for a year or longer waiting for a bed," Sheriff Johnson pointed out.
Officers are being proactive. Many are getting certified for Crisis Intervention Teams. Dr. Tiffany Anderson is the Mobile Crisis Coordinator for Region 9. She says families should not wait for a crisis before they seek help.
Dr. Anderson said, “I would definitely encourage family members, in addition to changing behavior, look for deterioration in their functioning from a day-to-day basis. If there are things that they were once doing that they suddenly stop doing, I would take that as a red flag. I would encourage them to maybe first not call law enforcement if it’s not a legal issue and encourage them to pick up the phone and call Mobile Crisis.”
Anderson says there are 66 trained CIT officers in Hinds County, Jackson, Byram, Terry and Clinton. A few years ago there were none.
“CIT is voluntary. These officers are not forced to go through the training. They volunteer their time to learn more about a person with mental illness,” Dr. Anderson said.
Many families say they cannot force a loved one with mental issues to take their medication or have them legally committed.
Jamesia Wilson-Cox says there is help for families in those situations. She is apart of the Assisted Outpatient Treatment Team with Region 9.
Wilson-Cox told us, “What we do: we go out into the community and provide outpatient services. It is amazing! If a client needs help with housing, we help them with housing. If they need help with food, clothing, if they just need help with medication management, we come to them.”
Another goal for mental health professionals is removing the stigma. Dr. Anderson and Wilson-Cox say families need to know they are not alone and there are resources for them.
“Just two weeks ago we had a violent client at his mother’s house," began Wilson-Cox, “so we had to get a CIT officer out there. We had four police officers and two staff members and we worked with the client until he came with us. But he was verbally aggressive, he was cursing us out, trying to make us leave the yard. He was punching and things like that. We always get violent clients, but, you know, you have to deescalate and try to work with them.”
You can find numbers and information about how to get help when dealing with a family member with mental health issues here. You will also find information on Mobile Crisis Response teams around the state.