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Killing Spurs Policy Review

Montgomery Officials Say They Couldn't Act on Landlady's Pleas

By David Snyder
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 23, 2005; Page B04

Joyce Hadl called 911 just before 1 p.m. Aug. 16, complaining that her tenant, Susan Lynn Sachs, was acting strangely and needed psychiatric help.

Montgomery County police responded with the first of five visits to Hadl's Chevy Chase house that day, according to 911 call records. Hadl, a psychiatric social worker known in her well-to-do neighborhood for taking in boarders, repeatedly told police that Sachs was mentally ill, authorities said. She begged them to take her away.

Police went repeatedly to the Chevy Chase home of psychiatric social worker Joyce Hadl but did not take away the woman now accused of killing her. (Juana Arias -- The Washington Post)

But after hours of interviews with Hadl and Sachs, county officials determined that they could not remove Sachs, 39, from the property. At some point in the next several days, Sachs stabbed the 71-year-old Hadl to death in her own bed, according to police.

Now Montgomery officials say they have begun a review of the county's response to Hadl's calls, to determine whether any procedures or policies need to be changed in the way the county handles disputes that have the potential to become deadly.

Chief Administrative Officer Bruce F. Romer said this week that the review will take into account the response of police and of officials for the county's mobile crisis response unit, which is run by the county health department.

Hadl's relatives "just have not seen enough facts about what happened or heard enough explanation to feel comfortable that everything was done that could have been done," said Brent Gilroy, a spokesman for the family, which requested the review. "Their basic concern is, could this have been prevented?"

"There will be a series of meetings and discussions with the involved departments," Romer said. "We'll take a look and see where it leads."

State law prohibits police or others from detaining people for emergency psychiatric evaluation unless they have a history of mental problems and clearly pose a danger to themselves or others.

"They have to be physically combative or say, 'I am going to hurt someone' or 'I am going to kill someone,' " said Lt. Julie Funt, who heads the civil division of the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office, which was not involved in the Hadl case.

Cooperation among police and social service workers is better in Montgomery than elsewhere in the state, law enforcement and health officials say. The county's Department of Health and Human Services has a mobile crisis unit that police often call on to help with mentally ill suspects or victims.

Police declined to comment on the specifics of the Hadl investigation, saying it is an open case. Citing privacy laws, county health officials also declined to comment. A Montgomery judge in February ruled that Sachs is not competent to stand trial and ordered her held at a mental hospital until she is able to stand trial.

Police first arrived at Hadl's home at 12:44 p.m. Aug. 16. The 911 call taker wrote that Hadl said Sachs "has not been taking meds and needs help."

At least two officers went to Hadl's home and left about 30 minutes later, according to the documents.

Ten minutes after police left, another call came into the county's 911 call center. This time it was Sachs. She alleged that Hadl "threw wine on her & punched her," according to the call taker's notes. The call taker noted that Sachs sounded "MO" -- mentally off.

Two officers were again dispatched to Hadl's home. They departed nine minutes later.

An hour passed before Sachs called again. This time, the call taker merely noted that it was a roommate/landlord dispute.

The county's mobile crisis unit -- therapists and social workers -- was called in at 3:58. It is unclear how long it stayed, but the next call came from a member of the crisis unit, who requested police backup at 4:44. Once again, police responded.

Five hours passed with no further 911 calls. Then, at 9:38 p.m., the crisis unit again called for police backup. The call taker now noted that Sachs had a "history of schizo affective disorder & has been reported to be acting bizarrely."

"No history of violence," the call taker noted.

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