Tag: lawsuit

Mental Illness and the Law: A Rocky Relationship

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Mental Illness is now back in the news, as a result of the video of a California Highway Patrol officer punching a mentally ill woman. The family of the woman plans to sue the police department for the officer’s actions.

Here is a piece I wrote regarding the painful issues that loved ones of mentally ill people deal with. These are actual stories, with the names omitted.

A 76 year old man was diagnosed late in life with schizophrenia. One of the side effects of this disease is that you do not believe you are ill or need medication; this elderly man was no different. After the death of his wife, he began to lose touch with reality. He began to neglect himself, not eat, and sit in an apartment during a heat wave, refusing to turn on the air conditioner. He was involuntarily hospitalized under the laws of the state, since it was found that he was a danger to himself. He received medication, was stabilized, and after two months, released back to his home with a care plan.

Approximately 1 in 4 adults across America suffer from some form of mental illness. Every state in the country has some version of what we call in Florida “the Baker Act”. If a friend, family member or neighbor sees someone who has mental health issues that are becoming out of control, they can call a local hospital, who visits the person in question. The police have the power to make this call as well. A psychiatric team visits the person, making observations about the person’s behavior, hygiene and surroundings. The team will ask questions, and determine whether or not the person is a danger to themselves or others. If the person is considered a danger, the law gives the team authority to have the person hospitalized (even against their will) for a minimum of 48 hours. The police are allowed to take the person by force if they refuse to go.

Several months later, the elderly man decided he was well, and stopped taking his medication. He became more and more angry, yelling at his daughter, and refusing to let the members of the care team into his home. He even physically pushed the aide who bought him groceries on a regular basis out the door of his house, because he was paranoid about why she was there. The difficult decision was made to call the medical team again to assess him. They determined he was a danger…but this time, he refused to go. The police came, and he fought. He fought with every fiber in his 76 year old being…until he was placed in a chokehold, handcuffed, and dragged out of his home of 40 years. At the hospital, he refused medication and refused to bathe. After going to court, the judge gave permission for the doctors to inject him with medication. So by force, he was held down and injected.

Medical intervention with the mentally ill is not always pretty. The question becomes, will this person harm themselves or others? It is even more difficult for the family, who has to stand by the sidelines, helpless and watching. The law allows for force to be used, as ugly as the result may be.

An attorney struggles with bipolar manic depression. When he is on his medications, he is the nicest guy you would ever want to meet. Generous, friendly, and great in the courtroom. However, when he stops taking his meds, he becomes violent and angry…almost a “Jekyll and Hyde” scenario. He hits his wife, ignores his children, and ends up stealing from a client. He is arrested, prosecuted, and loses his ability to practice law ever again.

Some mentally ill people end up in the criminal justice system. They may use illegal drugs to self medicate, in order to “make the voices stop”. They may commit crimes of violence against family members, law enforcement, and regular citizens. Some are less violent, but live in their own version of reality.

The other issue is the family. While the family suffers the ill effects of the person’s actions, they are struggling with the fact that deep down, the person is not bad, but ill. The age old question of “if your family member had cancer, would you stop speaking to them? How is mental illness different?” makes the struggle more difficult.

The criminal justice system, which is designed to punish, is slowly becoming more sensitive to these issues…but there are no easy answers. You can have a million programs in place to help the person struggling with mental illness. But the problem that remains is keeping the person on medication, when the disease tells them that they are fine.

Kids Suing Parents: Bringing Back Old Fashioned Discipline

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The legal world (as well as social media) has been ablaze as a result of 18 year old Rachel Canning’s attempt to sue her parents for living expenses. Shortly after Rachel’s lawsuit became public, there have been some reports that 80’s television star “Mr. T” was sued by a man claiming to be his son, under the grounds that Mr. T’s abandonment of him as a boy caused him to become a gang member.

 Rachel Canning claims that her parents were abusive, and their behavior forced her to move out of her parent’s home to a friend’s house. The parents, on the other hand, allege that Rachel refused to follow household rules. She stayed out late, came home intoxicated, and was disrespectful to her parents.

The judge in this case denied the teen’s motion for immediate support, but further motions, including money for college tuition, are pending. This story has been trending worldwide.  In Mr. T’s case, his alleged son, now in his 20’s, filed a lawsuit for $5.4 million dollars.  It was dismissed in 2013 because the filing fee was not paid in a timely manner.

The question is, what does this say about America, and how we discipline our kids?

A phenomenon that appears to be increasing is the fear of arrest as a result of disciplining your child.  The threat is of “Mom, Dad, if you touch me, I will call DCF/child protective services/the police”. As a result, many parents back down, and children are taught that they can misbehave without consequences. Additionally, they have learned to manipulate the system, with the clear message that threats can produce the desired consequences.

There is a very clear line between child abuse and discipline. Child abuse involves beating, burning or otherwise causing physical harm to a child. If a mother burns her child’s hand with an iron, that is abuse. If a father hits his son with a baseball bat, that is abuse. But spanking your child is NOT abuse.

 The criminal justice system has had to adapt to cultural differences that child rearing presents. While many American families utilize techniques such as having the child sit in a corner, or be in “time out”, many families from other countries are more physical in their methods of discipline. Having been raised in a Caribbean household, I was acutely aware of my boundaries as well as the uncomfortable consequences for misbehavior.

This is not to say that one is necessarily better than the other. Many sociologists have studied the area, coming to varied conclusions. The key is, every child is different. Some children respond to privileges being revoked; others may need more forceful reinforcement. But a parent should never be in fear of their children, or fearful to discipline them.

Fortunately, the judge saw through Rachel’s attempt to avoid the consequences of her actions. Her parents clearly told the court that if she returned to the family home, her tuition and all of her expenses would be paid. Today, the attorney for the Cannings announced that Rachel moved back into the family home; however, the lawsuit is still pending.

From a legal perspective, hopefully this will not set a nasty trend for kids to use the legal system to get around the authority of their parents, or punish their parents for whatever shortcomings they may have.

On a social perspective, this is a tragic situation for the Canning family. Having your personal affairs paraded through the media is certainly difficult, and it is clear this family is broken. Hopefully this family seeks counseling, because at the end of the day, they are tied by blood.

 And always will be.

The author Melba Pearson is an attorney in South Florida. Follow her on Twitter @ResLegalDiva

Continuing the Discussion — Shopping While Black

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Did you know that most shoplifters are White women between the ages of 40 – 50?

Yet the majority of shoppers stopped are of African descent?

Neither did I!

Yesterday, I had the amazing experience of appearing on the show “Tell Me More” on NPR. It’s hosted by Michel Martin, and she invited me on to discuss my article in Essence on Shopping While Black.

Also on the show was Professor Jerome Williams from Rutgers University. He has been doing a lot of research on this issue…and had statistics to back up the fact that some stores deliberately target shoppers of color, even though the majority of thefts are by store employees or middle aged White women.

Crazy, huh?

Lots of food for thought and discussion.

I think stores should just check people at random (unless they strongly suspect a particular person of theft). What do you think?

Have a listen to the discussion! Are Black Shoppers More Likely to be Profiled?

M.