The medical community is up in arms after off-duty police officers shot an unarmed patient in the chest in a psychiatric unit of a Texas hospital.
Alan Christopher Pean, 26, checked himself into the St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Houston last Wednesday for “intense anxiety” and “general disorientation.” The following day, he would be shot in the abdomen by two off-duty police officers who also work as security at the hospital.
According to a statement by the Houston Police Department, Officers O. Ortega and R. Law had been called to Pean’s room by nurses who needed help to subdue him. When the officers arrived, they allege that the patient struck Ortega in the head. Law then deployed a “conducted energy device,” which is essentially a taser.
For unknown reasons, Ortega then drew his gun and shot the patient. Luckily, the bullet missed his vital organs and he was moved to the emergency room for treatment.
The department then decided to file charges against the man who self checked in to the hospital for help, two counts of aggravated assault against a police officer.
“Because criminal charges are pending, and because of medical privacy requirements, it’s been difficult for us to get specific details regarding how and why this tragedy occurred,” Mark O’Mara, the Pean family’s attorney, told the Huffington Post. “We also need to find out what happened and what caused this situation to go so terribly wrong.”
The day of the shooting, Pean’s parents were notified that he was set to be discharged.
When they arrived at the hospital however, they were informed that their son had been shot. They would not be permitted to see their son until 48-hours after the shooting.
When they were finally permitted to visit, they were limited to “10 minute visits” per day and disallowed physical contact- similar to as if the patient and victim were in a prison.
Pean had moved to Houston to apply for graduate school, with a goal of becoming a physician’s assistant.
“Personally, we stand in outrage for every time he is referred to as ‘combative’ without sub-clause or context, we stand in outrage for every time he is called a ‘suspect’ instead of a patient, we stand in outrage for every time he, one empty-handed, help-seeking man, is painted as a threat to two officers, able-bodied and armed, in a hospital,” the petition reads.
The open letter states that it is impossible as medical professionals to remain silent on the fact that the medical community has failed Alan by the violations which occurred during his care.
“Professionally, we have been trained in truth seeking and healing. As doctors and medical students, as nurses and care partners, we are trained in how to safely restrain and tranquilize patients, no matter how aggressive, or irritable, or anxious, or threatening they may be. Never is it appropriate or warranted for a patient to be tazed, never is it appropriate for a patient to be struck, never, never, never is it appropriate for a patient seeking care, to have their life threatened in our arms,” the letter continues.
The powerful and eloquent statement goes on to detail the entire encounter and the failures that occurred not only by the hands of the officers, but also by the hospital.
Once Pean finally became alert, the first thing that he asked was “is anyone else hurt?”
According to a 2012 analysis from Johns Hopkins, 29% of shootings at hospitals take place in emergency rooms, and about 50% of them involve a police or security officer. This reason, as well as concerns about patients grabbing officer’s weapons, has lead to many hospitals not allowing cops to even enter the emergency room without surrendering their weapons to be held in a locked box.
“Forceful interactions in hospitals [are] going to go up as more and more mentally ill people only have access to services when they’re in crisis and go to the emergency room,” Alex Vitale, a sociologist who studies policing told Truthout. “Hospitals are responding to that by creating more police presence.”
“There’s no purpose for a gun even being in that setting,” Dr. Rachel Glick, medical director of the Psychiatric Emergency Services at the University of Michigan Health System told the Huffington Post. “Instead, you have to keep things safe by having enough staff and being willing to really listen.”
From people being shot and killed by police when they are suicide threats, to teenagers like Yanira Serrano-Garcia, shot and killed by police when her parent’s called 9-1-1 for medical assistance during a mental health crisis — it is clear to see that police are inadequately trained in handling mental illness.
“Cops are given a use of force spectrum, and they’re trained on when they can use deadly force, but [the training] doesn’t account for mental illness,” Shawn Vincent, the communications director for O’Mara Law Firm told Truthout. “It’s a problem especially if violence is part of the mental illness they’re suffering from.”
It is especially disheartening however, that those with mental illness cannot even be kept safe from the thin blue line while they are receiving treatment in what should be a safe space.
A video has since been uploaded to YouTube of Pean graciously thanking his supporters.
“I love you all,” Pean says in the video. “Thank you all for praying for me. It’s made a huge difference, and I can’t wait to hug each and every one of you guys.”
Pean’s bail was set at $60,000, which his family has posted.