Report criticizes care given to man before being shot by D.C. police
By Peter Hermann,
A man fatally shot by D.C. police in 2011 received inadequate mental health care from city agencies in the years leading to his death, according to an advocacy group’s report that said the District has since failed to address the deficiencies to prevent more potentially deadly confrontations.
In the report, the nonprofit University Legal Services (ULS) does not address the conduct of D.C. police officers who stormed Jean Edny Louis’s apartment. It places most of the blame for the shooting of Louis, 55, on Anchor Mental Health Services, an affiliate of Catholic Charities that has a contract with the D.C. Department of Mental Health.
The report, released Tuesday, accuses the city of not holding Anchor accountable for problems and reforming treatment protocols for patients in urgent need.
“Anchor failed to provide the necessary community based services to assist Mr. Louis in maintaining a safe and stable lifestyle,” the report said, and was not available when Louis was in crisis. ULS is calling for public hearings “to learn from the incident and explore how to prevent future deaths.”
City mental health officials dispute the report. In a statement, they promised to work with the advocacy group “to identify any changes that improve services.”
A spokesman for Catholic Charities, Erik Salmi, said the report “contains a number of material misstatements of fact and draws conclusions that are simply unsupported by what actually occurred.”
In a separate statement, Anchor said ULS unfairly blames the contractor when other health providers had been in charge of Louis’s care in the six months before his death.
On June 14, 2011, Louis’s landlord called an Anchor caseworker saying that he was “acting bizarre, yelling and screaming periodically day and night.” The counselor called the health department’s Mobile Crisis Services, an emergency team that helps police deal with mentally ill patients. The team responded to the 1600 block of Irving St. NW, where Louis had lived since the early 1970s.
Initial attempts to take Louis to a psychiatric facility resulted in a police officer being stabbed with a sharpened screwdriver. Louis barricaded himself in his bathroom. More than three hours later, a tactical officer who stormed the apartment opened fire.
Louis’s brother, Jean Alix Louis, complained that top city, police and Anchor officials never reached out to him after his brother was killed — although the caseworker did, apologizing and promising to investigate the shooting but then never calling back.
“Nobody called me to apologize,” Jean Alix Louis said in an interview. “Nobody gave me a concrete answer to anything. “
ULS complained in its report that D.C. police, as well as the health department and Anchor, refused to release many documents, limiting its investigation.
The group said in the report that it was unable “to address important questions about police actions, and in particular, about their ability to use best practices to deescalate encounters with individuals in psychiatric distress.”
D.C. police spokeswoman Gwendolyn Crump said the investigation into the shooting has concluded but declined to discuss the findings, citing pending litigation. Jean Alix Louis has filed a $30 million lawsuit in federal court against D.C. police that alleges that his brother was shot while he “was in the bathroom apparently asleep.”
In court filings, D.C. officials deny the claim. A day after the shooting, a police commander told The Washington Post that officers stormed the apartment thinking that Louis had fallen asleep but were attacked when they entered the bathroom.
A court date for the lawsuit has not been set.
ULS said a series of breakdowns in care occurred in the 18 months leading to the fatal confrontation. It noted that Louis, who had been under mental-health-care supervision since at least 2002, had been arrested once and hospitalized several times — including at the District-run St. Elizabeths Hospital — before returning to his Mount Pleasant apartment two weeks before his death.
It said that his Anchor case manager “attempted to visit twice and called several times, but did not receive a response,” and that Anchor knew Louis had most likely stopped taking his medication but failed to intervene beyond recommending more counseling and did not develop a comprehensive treatment plan.
Citing hospital records from St. Elizabeths, “the progress notes listed developing a crisis prevention plan as a goal and noted that Mr. Louis was not prepared for a crisis.”
The report said it found no evidence that the Anchor case manager “identified any preventive strategies.”
ULS also says that while an Anchor counselor was initially on the scene during the standoff, officials sent her home because she was eight months pregnant and the crisis team was present; the report’s authors said her presence helped ease tensions.
D.C. Department of Mental Health spokeswoman Phyllis Jones said Louis suffered “a complicated illness” and that his Anchor counselor “was pretty aggressive” in trying to contact him after he left the hospital for the final time.