Valley Police Chiefs Address Mental Health in the Wake of the Michelle Cusseaux Shooting

Categories: News

Matthew Hendley
Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery (at lectern) flanked by several local police chiefs.
Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery brought together several Phoenix-area police chiefs yesterday to explain how the departments are handling encounters with mentally ill people.

Of course, this comes on the heels of the shooting of Michelle Cusseaux, a 50-year-old mentally ill Phoenix resident who was fatally shot August 14 by Phoenix Police Officer Percy Dupra after, police say, she threatened officers with a hammer when they went to serve a court order to deliver Cusseaux to a mental-health facility.

"Just Monday in my city, we spent 8 1/2 hours negotiating with a subject there were never any criminal charges on, yet he clearly was in crisis," Surprise Police Chief Michael Frazier said. "His girlfriend called us, his mother called us, he had a house full of weapons. He threatened to kill himself. He threatened to kill officers that responded. [Responding officers] spent hour after hour trying to communicate -- talk."

Unlike Cusseaux, the man holed up in Surprise lived through his encounter with police.

See also:
-Phoenix PD's Shooting of Michelle Cusseaux to Be Investigated by DPS
-Body of Mentally Ill Woman Killed by Phoenix Police Brought to City Hall

In Cusseaux's case, she wasn't accused of any crime. There was a court order to bring her to a mental-health facility, and that job comes down to police.

In Mesa, the police department is going to try to handle these situations a little differently, by making it less of a police situation.

"This duty to pick these people up and transfer them to a mental-health facility has been pushed down to the municipal level, which is the municipal police departments," Mesa Police Chief Frank Milstead said. "As we look at that, you look at the equipment that police officers have at their disposal, and most of it is for dealing with criminals. That creates a hurdle for the line-level patrol officer trying to initiate these contacts peacefully."

Milstead said the department's planning a pilot program in which a firefighter who's gathered medical information on the person teams up with a police officer to serve the order. They'll use a vehicle other than a patrol car, and generally attempt to make it less of a police situation.

"This is more of a health care issue than it is a law enforcement issue," Milstead said.

Montgomery added that the idea of having police serve these orders should be "under review."

Montgomery also wanted to point out steps that agencies in the county are taking to deal with mentally ill people who encounter police, but not through these court orders.

"Up until this point, the default provider of mental health services not just here in Maricopa County, Arizona -- but really across the nation -- is the criminal justice system, and that's not just," Montgomery said. "If the only reason we're seeing someone in the courtroom is because they had a mental health episode that resulted from a lack of treatment or a lack of following a treatment plan or taking medication, if, but for that, we would never see them, that's what we should be focused on."

Montgomery said funding for expanded mental-health services will come as a result of the Arnold v. Sarn case -- a decades-old class-action lawsuit just settled this year that alleged the state and Maricopa County didn't provide the required mental-health services required by law. That will help with extending treatment programs once people are released from jail, and also include things like more monitoring programs and even housing assistance.

Another specific thing that could be done to help make better encounters between police and mentally ill people would be to create a sort of state mental-health database of court-adjudicated mental-health cases, Montgomery said. Several of the chiefs agreed that more information is needed about mentally ill people that police encounter, although since federal privacy laws prevent law enforcement from obtaining general mental-health records, they could keep tabs on the mental-health court cases through legislation.

Having the most information about a person's history might change encounters that police have with mentally ill people, according to Montgomery.

"Unfortunately in [certain] situations, the better outcome everyone wants may not happen, but it at least gives law enforcement a chance to have a different outcome than what might otherwise occur," he said.

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Having a family member who suffers from a mental disorder I feel completely safe in telling you, YES the police DO handle it wrong.  In this particular case, what was wrong with using a taser instead of a gun?

When family members are in EXTREME CRISIS we call 911, hoping for medical attention for loved ones.  The police always show up and are in fact responsible in determining the mental health of an individual.  

The average policeman/ woman is not trained in psych care and has NO right to the authority of diagnosing a person's mental state.  Instead they are looking for any infraction they can hold a person on.  Many times this means time in jail, not in a psych ward where these people can get the treatment they are in need of.  In the worst case scenarios the jail time creates even more paranoia.

Take for instance the case of Jared Lee Loughner...... His family repeatedly called 911 for medical assistance for their son, the officers that arrived at these calls determined he did not need psych care.  We all know how that story ends; it was needless and did not have to happen, the state let all parties involved down.  

@ Gary Trayler Seriously?  'mental retards'?  Many of our vet's suffer from mental disorders brought on by the time they served.  Crawl back under your rock/

Gary Trayler
Gary Trayler

You cant make everything perfect for mental retards no matter what you do

MaskedMagician1967 topcommenter

I see.

MontyPug must enjoy talking out of both sides of his mouth.

As I said before, a workshop class would and should be required.


So this guy, Bill Montgomery who has been happily persecuting the mentally ill with his war on drugs and cannabis is now going to solve the mental healthcare crises he and the police have helped to create.

The first thing this state needs to do is get Bill Montgomery and his marry band of pick pockets out of our right to make our own healthcare decisions. Then they need to completely remove mental healthcare out of the prisons, especially the for profit prisons, and remove the police from the first responders list for mental health and send unarmed crises intervention teams instead. 

But Arizona has decided that they would rather spend all the money on guys and gals with guns, and parasite lawyers who have built their careers  off of persecuting the mentally ill. Until that changes don't expect things to get any better.


Had Joe Yahner not pissed off the wrong people, he would probably be standing up there with the other police chiefs.  Too bad, so sad.


@RetiredArmy ,

Crisis intervention teams are the right idea. Two weeks of training isn't nearly enough to equip police to deal with a person who may be suffering from auditory hallucinations or a delusional  state of mind. You need people who have had experience in dealing with  people in a mental health crisis.


@annarkey14 @RetiredArmy 

You are right. Two weeks of training is a joke. We need someone with at least a Masters Degree to lead each team. In the close to twenty years that I spent working in the healthcare field, I never saw anyone use a gun to produce a healthy outcome for any illness. Unless you consider life an illness.



I don't consider the degree as important as having experience in dealing with seriously mentally ill people.

I'm speaking from over 20 years of working on a forensic psychiatric unit and 5 years as a clinical instructor in a psychiatric technician training program at the hospital I worked at.

Believe it or not, the people who I trained who had degrees, but no experience, turned out, in many cases, to be inept at dealing with real patients in real situations. That's why I stress experience.

PS..Former Vietnam Dustoff Medic here.


@annarkey14 @RetiredArmy 

I completely agree with your comment. I used a Masters Degree only as a point of reference for comparison too two weeks training.

PS Former Desert Storm BMET for Front Line Combat Support Hospital and Vietnam era vet here.

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