A wellness check by police ends with a son dead

There are plenty of incidents in the last few years that show why involving the police in a wellness check of someone in a mental health crisis is riskier than it should be. Far too often, distraught parents call the police for help and within hours, someone’s son or daughter is dead.

The latest victim is Austin Reeves, 26, of Hingham, Mass., who told his parents he just needed to be left alone in his room, where he was fretting over a breakup a week ago Saturday. His dog was with him. So was his gun.

“Don’t back me into a corner,” his father recalls his son saying, according to the Boston Globe today. “Because I’ll make it go away in four seconds.”

They didn’t know what to do. They called the police.

Dozens of them showed up. So did a military-style vehicle. Police dogs. And a SWAT team. They set up bright lights on the family’s lawn, the Globe said. Neighbors were called and told to stay inside.

“Please,” the father says he asked them, “why can’t you just let him go to sleep?”

Police told Austin’s father that his son had made a threat in that conversation, according to Reeves: that anyone who comes upstairs to get him would get hurt. That threat seemed enough to change the way police viewed the situation and its potential dangers, and it may have been the turning point in their response. After that, Reeves said, officers mentioned a SWAT team.

“You can’t do that,” he says he told them. “Where is the imminent threat?”

As more officers began arriving, police told Reeves and Harrison they had to leave the street. His mother felt discomfort to her core: Austin was here, and he needed her. The parents asked to stay, but police said no; this was protocol they had to follow. They led the couple — Harrison still in her bathrobe — on a roundabout exit route through surrounding yards. At one point, Reeves says, he started to run back, but an officer physically restrained him.

As they reached the corner, Harrison turned to look back at her home. Distant enough now to see the entire scene, she realized for the first time the full scale of what was happening: the street thick with police vehicles, teeming with armed officers in SWAT gear.

She fell to her knees on her neighbor’s lawn in horror. “Oh my God, oh my God,” she cried. “What are you doing? Is this really necessary?”

The scene was so chaotic, no one heard the shot from the bedroom that ended Austin’s life.

“It was totally preventable,” his father said. “He wasn’t a criminal. He didn’t have a hostage. This was a kid distressed about a girlfriend, and they turned it into a life-and-death situation.”

By all accounts, the police followed their protocol. Listening to a father isn’t in the protocol.

Archive: What went wrong in Roseville mental health police call? (MPR NewsCut)