SALEM, Oregon (AP) – One summer night, Misty Castillo walked out of her home in Salem, Oregon, called 911 and called the police, saying her son was mentally ill, was assaulting her and her husband and was carrying a knife.
“He’s drunk, he’s high and he’s mentally ill,” Castillo told the emergency staff, again emphasizing her son’s mental state. Less than five minutes later, a police officer broke into the house and shot Arcadio Castillo III as he stood, as his mother later said, “frozen like a deer in the headlights.”
He didn’t try to calm him down. “He just came and shot my son right away,” Castillo said.
Time and time again across the United States, people with mental health crises are killed by police, but the exact number remains unknown due to a growing government information gap.
The 21st Century Cures Act, which Congress passed with bipartisan votes in 2016, requires the Department of Justice to collect and publish data on how often federal, state, and local officers use force, how often that force ends in murder and how often the deceased suffered from mental illness. But the law does not require police departments to tell the Ministry of Justice how many people their officers have killed.
The FBI is trying to collect statistics, but in the first quarter of this year, it was estimated that only 40% of all sworn law enforcement agencies provided numbers on the use of force. This number is well below the level of participation needed to justify policy changes.
Arcadio’s parents sought psychotherapy for their 23-year-old son, but the system, as it were, failed them. In the weeks leading up to his murder, they were unable to diagnose or commit his condition.
Across the country, in West Virginia, another system fails, another dies.
Apparently Matt Jones had a severe manic episode while parked on a highway with a gun. The police were everywhere, sirens blaring. The scene was captured on July 6 in the Bradley community by a bystander in a video. One officer fired a shot and then others opened fire, killing Jones with a hail of bullets.
His fiancée, Dreamer Marquis, said the 36-year-old was unable to refill his medication and was experiencing delusions and hallucinations.
“He wanted to help so badly,” Marquez said. “He knew he needed medication in order to live a normal life because he knew he was going to have manic episodes that would get him into trouble.”
Advocates for people with mental illness say they clearly face a higher risk of confronting the police and leading to their death.
Hana Wesolowsky, senior advocacy officer for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said Castillo and Jones’ deaths “highlight a larger systemic problem we face in helping people who are struggling with their mental health or who are experiencing a mental health crisis.”
She said many communities lack the infrastructure for a mental health crisis, with nearly 130 million people in the United States living in a region with a shortage of mental health providers.
“So when someone acts as a result of their symptoms, often the only option is to send in the police, and that can escalate the situation and lead to these tragic outcomes,” she said. “I think we’re letting people down early in the process because we’re letting it get to the point of crisis.”
She said the July 988 launch of the National Mental Health Emergencies Hotline is a huge step forward.
“It really does catalyze this evolution of the crisis system, but it will take years to get to it,” Wisowski said. “I think we are closer to the starting line than the finish line to reimagine our response to the crisis in this country.”
One in five adults in the United States has a mental illness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. However, people with untreated mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed during a police encounter than other people contacted by law enforcement, the Center for Therapy Advocacy said in a 2015 report.
In Portland, Oregon, for example, 72% of 85 people shot by police from 1975 to 2020 had mental illness, drugs, alcohol, or a combination of both, according to Jason Reno of the Portland Mental Health Association. Not only does the group have the numbers for people with mental illness, but they are sometimes intertwined. For example, long-term methamphetamine use can cause psychosis.
In 2012, the federal government sued the city of Portland over the Portland Police Office’s disproportionate use of violence against mentally ill people. But since then, the use of force on the mentally disabled has increased, according to an analysis presented in federal court.
Reno said that of the 25 people shot by law enforcement officers from various agencies in the Portland metro area since 2012, everyone had mental illness, substance use disorders, or both.
Lt. Nathan Sheppard, a spokesperson for the Portland Police Office, said he could not confirm those numbers. He confirmed that all Portland police officers receive crisis intervention training. The department has also established a unit to coordinate the response of law enforcement and the behavioral health system to people in crises of mental illness and drug or alcohol abuse.
But Sheppard said more needs to be done to address what he described as a “public health emergency that has been around for decades where services and treatment are not readily available or easily accessible for those who need mental health treatment.”
“There is a need for more proactive, appropriate, and person-centered approaches to helping people with mental illness,” Sheppard said.
A year after Arcadio Castillo III was murdered by a police officer on July 9, 2021, his mother and the city of Salem are suing the officer in federal court for not using crisis intervention methods and training before resorting to lethal force.
A grand jury found the shooting was justified. The Marion County District Attorney’s Office said Arcadio lunged at the officer, who was not wearing a body camera, knife raised in a stabbing position.
“He never did that,” Arcadio’s mother said, standing over the spot in the living room where her son died after being shot by four. She said the family “feels betrayed that the person who is supposed to serve and protect us in a time of crisis has taken my child.”
After showing symptoms of mental illness as a teen in Arcadio, Marion County mental health workers diagnosed him with attention deficit disorder and prescribed Ritalin, but the anxiety got worse, his mother said. He started using drugs and alcohol to get over it. A case worker at a crisis center said she cannot diagnose Arcadio due to drug and alcohol abuse, according to Castillo.
Castillo said Arcadio’s parents tried to force him to go to a psychiatric institution, “but everywhere we went we were told he wasn’t sick enough to be observant.” A week later he was killed.”
“It was very frustrating for me because he wasn’t getting the right diagnosis, treatment or medication he so badly needed, and his anxiety just kept getting worse,” she said.
Arcadio’s ashes are kept in a blue teardrop-shaped urn on the mantelpiece of the family’s rented home. His mother plans to put some remains in cremation necklaces for his loved ones.
A video of the West Virginia’s murder hit social media before Jones’ loved ones were informed of his death.
Nicole Jones, her sister-in-law, was browsing Facebook when she clicked on a video showing a man with red shoulder hair walking down a highway, pursued by at least eight police officers armed with rifles. The man raised his arms above his head and pistol in hand as he retreated from the officers. He aimed the gun at his head for a while.
Jones’ heart fell when she realized the man’s behaviors – his gait, the way he flips his hair over his shoulder with his head bobbing – and she realized he was her brother-in-law.
State Police have completed their investigation into the shooting and sent their report to Raleigh County District Attorney Ben Hatfield, who will determine whether the deadly force was justified. Hatfield said Matt Jones hijacked at least one car at gunpoint shortly before he was shot.
He’s been in and out of prison for nearly two decades. His brother, Mark Jones, said it was clear to the family that Matt, who was a star baseball player and wrestler, had struggled with his mental health since childhood. His parents took him for counseling and tried to find medicine to help him.
Matt built a landscaping and deforestation business but was also having a problem – often DUIs or driving without a license. His family said that most of the charges against him were the result of violating the probation system.
In prison, Matt was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and put on medication, which helped. But he gets trapped in a circle as he struggles to get care, suffers from a mental health crisis and gets arrested again.
He lived for a time at his brother and sister-in-law’s home in Culpeper, Virginia. Nicole Jones remembers spending hours playing with her children on the tire swing. But after a while, he found it hard to fall asleep and said he could hear voices. He asked her to help him make an appointment with a psychiatrist, but the counselor did not call him back.
His fiancée said weeks before his death, Matt was about to run out of pills and stopped crying.
Matt did not have a driver’s license. His Social Security card and birth certificate were elsewhere. This made medical appointments difficult, Marques said. She said they eventually went to an open clinic that would take care of people without ID, but left after an eight-hour wait without being seen.
Mark Jones was landscaping when he saw a video of his brother being shot.
“I was trying to understand,” he said, “what was he thinking?” “What I keep coming back to is that he is lost and that he really wants to help — not just once, but his whole life.”
The Willingham Reports from Charleston, West Virginia. Associated Press reporter Gary Fields in Washington contributed to this report.