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Tanisha Anderson's family wants better mental-health training for police
A proposed Tanisha's Law could follow efforts already happening in Cincinnati, Zanesville and Pittsburgh
by WKSU's KABIR BHATIA


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Kabir Bhatia
 
Tanisha Anderson's mother, Cassandra Johnson, says the family has relied on faith to get them through this situation
Courtesy of K. Bhatia
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The family of Tanisha Anderson is calling for a law requiring training of police officers when dealing with mentally ill people. WKSU's Kabir Bhatia reports.
Tanisha Anderson's family wants better mental-health training for police

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The family of Tanisha Anderson filed a federal civil rights suit Wednesday against the city of Cleveland and the two officers blamed for causing her death. Anderson was schizophrenic and her family had called police for assistance.

The suit seeks an undisclosed amount of money and a jury trial. And it cites the recent Justice Department report criticizing Cleveland police for a lack of training in various areas. 

A call for help
At a press conference Thursday, attorney Al Gerhardstein said one of the family's aims is for a state law that ensures every police officer in Ohio is trained in appropriate ways to deal with mentally ill people.

“We have an unarmed woman, who didn’t commit a crime. Who said -- who had the family say -- ‘I need help. I’m not having a good night. I am disoriented.’”

In November, Anderson's family had called for help with the 37-year-old, who had tried repeatedly to head out into the cold weather without appropriate clothing

Two calls handled two ways
A first pair of officers calmed Anderson. But a second, later call was answered by two different officers. They were apparently not briefed on the situation and while attempting to take her for a mental health evaluation, they say she began to kick them, then fell to the ground.

Her mother, Cassandra Johnson, disputes much of that account, saying her daughter was just scared.

"She would still be here if they would have just handled it in a different way. She became a criminal and she was not a criminal. She was a person with a mental disorder and she was treated like somebody that had a weapon. She had no weapon. She didn’t even fight them."

Overhauling the system
Johnson and her family also say the officers did not provide medical care. Attorney Gerhardstein says the department was supplied with out-of-date information on contacting mental health specialists, and the system needs an overhaul. He's based in Cincinnati, where he says reform and training efforts have yielded positive results.

“The first thing we did when we had our collaborative and our package of reforms was to train every police officer on mental health response. And it just can’t come soon enough here in Cleveland that everyone should know what to do, how to do it and to know when they are in over their heads so they don’t make a sad situation worse.” 

Gerhardstein adds that accountability is a big part of the needed reforms – with technology already being discussed after cases like the shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice.

“I’m a big fan of body cams and cruiser cams – not one without the other. The cruiser cam comes with a really good audio system. So even if the cruiser is pointed in the wrong direction, you still get all the audio of the interaction between the officer and the subject.”

Pricing the system
Gerhardstein is working with attorney David Malik, who says Cleveland’s pattern of settling such cases with a confidentiality agreement is counter to Anderson’s family’s desire for a jury trial. But he says the public can find out how much the wrongful death actions of police officers are costing taxpayers.

“Confidentiality is always asked for by the city. But what the city recognizes is that in a wrongful death case, documents need to get filed in probate court. So confidentiality really doesn’t remain an issue, because what occurred in the case gets revealed in the probate court.”

Malik says he hopes the state legislature considers the economics of a proposed Tanisha’s Law versus the cost of lawsuits.


“Where these things usually get stalled is somebody raises the issue of, 'How much is it going to cost to implement Tanisha’s law throughout the state?' It seems that it’s a matter of hundreds of dollars for a 40-hour program, as opposed to thousands of dollars. The economic component of it shouldn’t be the barrier.”


Reforming the system

Along with reforms and legislation, Tanisha Anderson’s aunt – the Rev. Diane Wheeler -- called on Cleveland police to reassess the way they deploy resources.

“The police department needs to reset crime-fighting priorities and strategies to make those strategies consistent with the needs of our community at large.

“And God is shining down a high-beam light on the Cleveland Police Department, uncovering the hidden corruption that has gone on for years because of the non-training of police officers in every facet of their job.”

Representatives from the National Alliance on Mental Illness were on-hand at the press conference offering to help Cleveland police set up the right training.

Calls to the police union were not returned, and the city said in a statement e-mailed to Cleveland.com that it does not comment on pending litigation.

The two officers being sued in the Anderson case remain on desk duty.

Related Story:
Cleveland.com is reporting that a fiscal manager in Cleveland's public safety department has resigned because of the police shooting of Tamir Rice and mass chase and shooting of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams. Regarding Rice, he says the 12-year-old ended up "paying the ultimate price" for mismanagement of the department.  
 
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