The settlement agreement was for 300,000 dollars. Under the agreement there was no acknowledgment of wrongdoing on the part of the city of Woodland or its four officers involved in the incident.
“More importantly, there was no finding of wrongdoing or negligence. It was a sad and tragic event for everybody. … Both parties tried to resolve it quickly to provide some sort of closure for the family.”
The Vanguard has acquired a copy of the settlement agreement. Not reported widely in the local press is the fact that the settlement agreement also contained clauses to provide for a memorial bench and a meeting with the Chief of Police to discuss training issues.
Supervisor Matt Rexroad, quickly concluded that it was all about the money.
“When the whole Abrahams lawsuit was announced I said it was all about the money. Some of you took issue with this by saying that the family was really seeking change in policy regarding how the police handled the situation. Right. It was announced yesterday that the city has settled with the family for $300,000. I guess all the money will probably go to some foundation to train police officers in Woodland. Think so? I don’t. Until someone can show me otherwise I will continue to believe this was all about the money. About $6 of taxpayer money for every single person in Woodland.”
As Mr. Rexroad should know, the money is coming from YCPARMIA, the agency that insures local agencies against such legal action, rather than the taxpayers in Woodland. Moreover, $300,000 hardly seems like enough money to justify the claim that it was all about money.
The Vanguard exchanged emails with attorney for the Abrahams Family Johnny L. Griffin III who informed us that the case against the other defendants was more primary to their suit.
“The case is moving forward against the other defendants. The settlement with the City was very appropriate based on the confirmed totality of facts and circumstances.”
The key defendant would appear to be Yolo Community Care Continuum, who operator the Safe Harbor Crisis House, the facility where Mr. Abrahams had been admitted for mental health treatment and who eventually called the police when he was in an agitated state the following morning. The facility’s director called the police and requested a welfare check.
The lawsuit claims:
“Safe Harbor staff knew that Ricardo’s stress and anxiety, combined with his difficulty communicating and following instructions, would likely lead to a confrontation between Ricardo and police.”
Moreover, the facility failed to contact Abrahams’ parents or an individual experienced in mental health crisis intervention to reduce his stress.
The suit had originally alleged:
“The police officers needlessly escalated their encounter with decedent into a confrontation, and intentionally and recklessly commenced the use of force and violence without justification.”
The Vanguard has spoken to a number of law enforcement officers who have expressed concern about the handling of this case, and the use of the Taser as a means to calm a mentally disturbed individual who posed little to no immediate threat to himself or the officers involved. One officer, speaking on the condition of anonymity, felt this was a widespread problem that the law enforcement community needed to address and that officers turn to tools like the Taser before exhausting other options.
The suit also continues against the Taser International.
This entire incident was very tragic. And while the state Attorney General’s Office, who investigated the incident ruled that there was no criminal conduct by the officers involved, and now the suit has been settled with the family without an admittance of guilt, the police should thoroughly examine how they treat individuals with who mental illness and are non-responsive for those reasons.
Police officers are quick to treat all non-cooperative and non-responsive individuals in a similar manner when in fact, the reasons for their non-responsiveness are very different from people who are on drug or being willfully non-cooperative and resisting arrest.
The logic behind using a Taser is that it is a non-lethal means to diffuse a situation. However, more and more evidence is emerging that Taser is not nearly as non-lethal as their manufacturers claim.
The suit charges:
“Taser International knew that its Taser guns had manufacturing and/or design defects that presented the risk of causing personal injury and death, particularly against persons experiencing mental stress, mental illness, health issues, and/or medical conditions.”
More than just this, there are other ways to deal with individuals experiencing mental stress and illness than to Taser them. Departments should use these weapons as a last resort and it seems reasonable to question both police and officials at the Safe Harbor Crisis House for failing to bring people onto the scene that could have calmed Mr. Abrahams down such as his parents or other more experienced health officials.
The portion of the suit that continues against the Safe Harbor Crisis House may shed at least some light on what happened and what should have occurred. It is our hope that the Woodland Police Chief will meet with the family and that they can change some of their operating procedures for how to deal with individuals suffering from mental illness.
—David M. Greenwald reporting