Looking For Help That Never Came

When someone shoots and kills another person it is called homicide.

If a police officer in South Dakota shoots and kills someone it is called "justifiable homicide."

There is a huge problem in this state because police officers and medical doctors are not properly trained to identify mental illness. Whenever confronted by a mentally disturbed person the first action of the police is to shoot to kill.

Time after time individuals turn themselves into the local hospital for mental problems and time after time they are given a bottle of pills and sent on their way.

Elijah Whitemagpie was a 20-year-old Lakota man with a drug and alcohol addiction problem leading to a state of mental instability. One night he was spotted with a knife in his hand at the local library. Some say he threw rocks at the library window.

When confronted by the police he advanced toward them, according to a police report, with knife in hand and he was shot five times by a Rapid City police officer. Whitemagpie survived the bullet wounds. After a trial and conviction he was sent to the Jameson Annex Prison where he tied a sheet around his neck and committed suicide.

A young Lakota man named Christopher Capps was shot to death by a Rapid City police officer while walking toward him with a stick in his hand. His father Jerry called it homicide. The lawsuit he and his family filed is still winding its way through the court system.

My point is that there is a severe lack of training for police officers in dealing with mentally ill individuals. And as I said what is even worse is the total lack of trained doctors or a facility that deals with mental illness in this city.

Earl Hicks, who was shot to death by a police officer last month, was not an Indian, but he was raised around the Indian people. He was a young man who had gone through a lot of physical ailments in his short life. He had open heart surgery to repair a leaking valve when he was only seven months old. It was a physical handicap that deterred him from a lot of youthful activities as he was growing up. Last September he was told that he once again had a leaky heart valve. The Heart Doctor's in Rapid City told him they could not do the surgery here so he was sent to Denver. He was home recovering from the open heart surgery when he was told he had to go back into the hospital to have a pacemaker installed. He was scared to death of all of the operations.

We noticed he was hallucinating by talking to himself and believing that a couple of guys at the Cornerstone Mission were out to kill his mom. We took him to the Regional Behavioral Hospital and they kept him for a day, gave him pills and sent him on his way. When matters seemed to have gotten worse we took him to the hospital again and the same thing happened: He was prescribed more pills and sent home. He was taking so many pills that his mother was shocked when she found all of the bottles at his apartment after his death. He was on at least 10 different medications.

There is apparently no central place where a person suffering from mental illness' data can be stored so that if they attempt to buy a gun the data would show up. All a person has to do is fill out a form and on the form it asks if they have ever been hospitalized for mental illness and all they have to do is check "no" and they can buy a gun. A gun shop owner can only go by what they put on the form, but if there was a place where the shop owner could call prior to selling the gun that would list the name of anyone suffering from a mental illness this would stop them from selling that person a gun.

Law enforcement and the doctors in Rapid City need to find a way to address this serious problem. Earl was my stepson and he was crying out for the help that never came. We could take him to the hospital time and again, but if he could not get the help he needed there is nothing further we could have done.

He took the gun he bought and went to the Cornerstone Mission and tried to shoot a man who used to be his best friend. He was shot to death by a Rapid City police officer with a 223 Rifle. This was also proclaimed as a "justifiable homicide" by the powers-that-be.

Some say that Earl had the pistol hanging down at his side when he was shot and that he was not pointing it at the police officer. Anyhow, Earl is dead and there has to be a way to prevent people with mental problems from buying a gun. He bought the gun two days before he was killed and if we knew he had a gun we would have taken it away from him and he would still be alive.

The system needs to change. More lives will be lost to police shootings if it does not. It is happening all over America and not just in Rapid City.

(Tim Giago can be reached at unitysodak1@vastbb.net)