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Covington Police: Officer, accused of leaving teen with mental issues unattended, followed protocol

(MGN)
Published: May. 20, 2022 at 5:04 PM EDT
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COVINGTON, Va. (WDBJ) - Covington Police and the City of Covington say an officer accused of leaving a teenager with mental issues unattended outdoors did his job properly.

As WDBJ7 reported Wednesday, State Senator Creigh Deeds (D-25) is looking into a report of a child with mental health issues being transported from Alleghany Hospital in Covington and left alone at the doorstep of a mental health facility more than 70 miles away.

In an email sent to the Senator, a woman who works at the Commonwealth Center for Adolescents and Teens in Staunton said the child was taken by a Covington police officer from the hospital and taken to the center in Staunton. The employee said in the email the officer left the child unattended at the facility at 5:30 in the morning while it was still dark.

The following is a verbatim statement, as provided to WDBJ7 from the city and police department:

This past Saturday morning, around 9:00AM, Chief Smith and I both received notification from the Executive Director of the Alleghany Highlands Community Services Board, regarding concerns that they were contacted directly about, a Temporary Detention Order (TDO) involving a young man. Upon notification, Chief Smith issued an immediate directive for an Internal Affairs Review to take place per policy, given the nature of the concerns raised. This was not only consistent with policy but also warranted given the conflicting accounts that were relayed the day of, and those that have been relayed in the last five days to the media. For the record, the Covington Police Officer was wearing and activated their body camera during the TDO process at the state hospital, Commonwealth Center for Children and Adolescence.

The TDO in question occurred earlier that morning and stemmed from a call that came into Covington Police for service the night before, our officer who responded to the call, based on basic crisis intervention criteria, initiated an Emergency Custody Order (ECO). The Covington Police Officer who recognized the need for mental health assistance is the exact same Officer who acted in earnest to carry out their legal obligation as the TDO directed once issued, however they were fully prevented from doing so, by staff on site at the hospital.

I would like to reiterate that there have been conflicting public statements made, that quite frankly do not support the facts that are substantiated by the Officer’s body camera footage nor verbal statements Covington Police have received from the state hospital Director. To be clear, our Officer, never left the fenced in grounds of the state hospital’s property during their efforts to fulfill their legal obligation of the TDO while maintaining their core values to protect and serve. Once the Officer entered their vehicle, “within a minute... " per the Hospital Director, the young man’s intake began. Being released today, is the transcript of the Officer’s exchange with the state hospital’s employee/attendant on site that morning and the call for guidance the Officer sought from their First Sergeant along with body camera footage. (The transcript was not made available to WDBJ7.) The video in its entirety is 15 minutes and 30 seconds in length. (The video was not made available to WDBJ7.) The Chief and I both understand that this Officer was faced with a difficult legal challenge, which impeded their duties. The officer not only remained on the grounds to insure the young man was taken in, but went back to the state hospital lobby phone and attempted to call the attendant to verify within minutes intake started. In doing so, the Officer laid eyes on the young man inside the building behind a secure door and an employee within sight as well. After this the Officer marker out clear to return back to Covington from Staunton, where the state hospital is.

Since Saturday, Covington’s Division of Police has completed its Internal Affairs Review and has concluded that the Officer acted in good faith per the Code of Virginia where the magistrates issues temporary or emergency detention order (TDO/ECO) that directs local law enforcement to transport individuals to designated mental healthy facilities. Section 37.2-809.1 of the Code of Virginia (1950, as amended), also known as Virginia’s “bed of last resort” statute, states that state-run hospitals are required to accept patients if a space cannot be found at another facility.

The problem, which is systemic throughout the Commonwealth, is when such state-run hospitals decline to accept the patient as required by law. This then pits law enforcement officers against our mental health professionals and the communities they serve. In some recent instances there have been lawsuits filed by localities against state hospital facilities.

It is also important to note, for law enforcement, the TDO/ECO process has basically three parts: (1) executing the TDO/ECO, which means taking custody of the patient; (2) transporting the patient to the designated facility or transferring custody to an alternative transportation provider listed in the TDO/ECO; and (3) if transporting, transferring custody to the designated facility. It is this number (3) that has given rise to a number of cases throughout the Commonwealth that have resulted in law enforcement sitting with the patient in emergency rooms waiting for a bed to open up for days. Obviously, this is problematic from a policing perspective as that means an officer is off the streets and not performing their primary role of law enforcement.

The Covington Division of Police is fully cooperating with all efforts to review what occurred and will continue its efforts of ensuring crisis intervention training for its Officers. Equally important is that the City and the Police will continue to foster its collaborative relationships with the Alleghany-Covington Department of Social Services and the Alleghany Highlands Community Services Board.

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