As Cops Arrest More Elders, Dementia Patients Die.

As Cops Arrest More Elders, Dementia Patients Die

Armando Navejas wandered off one evening in October 2021 while at home in El Paso, Texas. The 70-year-old man had dementia and Parkinson’s disease, and according to his family, he could hardly talk at all. His wife Josephine contacted 911 to request assistance locating him out of concern for his safety.

At two in the morning, Navejas was wandering shirtless in front of his home. A neighbour’s home security camera saw an officer walking up and shining a flashlight in Navejas’ face. Navejas approached the officer while picking up a string of wooden blocks, showing signs of agitation. The officer then withdrew behind a parked car. The wood Navejas haphazardly hurled in the officer’s direction landed on the windshield.

The officer approached the car and fired a shock pistol at Navejas’ back as he turned away. His body became stiff. He hit the pavement on his face. According to medical records, Navejas arrived in the emergency room that evening with “many facial fractures” and bleeding around his head. He never returned home; a death certificate indicates that he died in March from unrelated natural causes in a rehabilitation centre.

According to a representative for the El Paso Police Department, the use of force was “reasonable and necessary.” Debbie Navejas Aguilar, Navejas’ daughter, is suing the city and two cops for causing her father “severe physical and psychological suffering.”

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She stated in one interview that “they acted like he had a gun.” “This 70-year-old man is absorbed in his thoughts. I don’t comprehend it. Older individuals are having more issues with the police as the U.S. population ages, and more people get dementia.

For someone already physically and mentally weak, like Navejas, any use of force or an arrest can be catastrophic. Less focus has been placed on the particular risks in situations involving persons with Alzheimer’s and other brain diseases, even though many communities are rethinking how they respond to mental health calls, including whether or not police should be present.

The number of people with dementia detained each year is not recorded nationally. The Marshall Project found that between 2000 and 2020, the number of arrests of those over 65 increased by almost 30%, despite a nearly 40% decline in overall arrests, according to its examination of U.S. crime data. As the population ages, the number of arrests of older adults increases more quickly. Less than 2% of all arrests are still made of older Americans.

According to national data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 12,000 patients 65 and older who suffered injuries from police or private security between 2010 and 2020 ended up in a hospital emergency department.

Serious incidents have surfaced nationwide, frequently caught on police body cameras. 2020 saw the violent arrest of dementia-stricken 73-year-old Karen Garner in Loveland, Colorado, for attempting to steal $14 worth of goods from Walmart. The officer who shattered her arm and pinched her to the ground received a five-year prison term. A 70-year-old woman with late-onset bipolar disorder was teased by police in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 2021 before being tackled and imprisoned.

Amelia Baca, 75, was shot and died in April in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Amelia had dementia and was standing in the doorway of her home, wielding two colossal kitchen knives. Since then, her family and the city have resolved a $2.75 million lawsuit. Police are frequently called to solve household disputes, apprehend bewildered shoplifters, and find lost people. However, many cops may lack sufficient dementia training.

Regardless of age or mental capacity, some elderly persons can still be a genuine menace. However, encounters with the police can also become more heated if a person cannot understand or adhere to an officer’s instructions. People with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease may find it challenging to communicate. If the person is scared or overpowered, their uncertainty may come across as hostile.

Eilon Caspi, a gerontologist and dementia behaviour specialist at the University of Connecticut, stated that even handcuffing a person with dementia could be exceedingly traumatic. He said that any aspect of an arrest “may be a fear,” from being driven in a police cruiser to being questioned to being locked up.

Joel Quattlebaum is the senior services officer for the city police department in Largo, Florida, where more than one in four inhabitants are 65 years or older. While he primarily assists senior citizens who are victims of crime, he is dispatched to various calls concerning senior citizens.

As a call for a welfare check on a woman in trouble came over his police radio, Quattlebaum remarked, “These days, law enforcement is employed as a social resource.” He assists in training new hires and holds certification from the National Council for Certified Dementia Practitioners. “People need assistance right now. When they phone other places, they either get voicemails or are on lengthy waitlists.

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the rough arrest of a dementia-ridden driver

Experts argue that the best techniques for dealing with dementia patients, such as remaining calm, patient, and adaptable, may conflict with an officer’s requirement for compliance when making an arrest.

Senior director of the Alzheimer’s Association Monica Moreno stated, “We know what works best is to communicate slowly and gently, ask simple questions, and don’t dispute with the person.” Over 31,000 emergency responders have received online training from the association and the U.S. Justice Department on how to identify and deal with those who have the disease.

According to her, “the approaches are quite different from what [officers] may be learning in their daily training.” This disconnect could have disastrous effects. Ralph Ennis, 77, was pulled over this spring by deputies from the Warren County Sheriff in Front Royal, Virginia, for erratic driving. According to the sheriff’s office, Ennis, who had dementia, initially refused to stop and obey the deputy’s instructions.

Body cam footage from the Front Royal Police Department (a separate agency) shows a deputy holding Ennis’ arms behind his back and slamming his head against the truck as soon as he got out of the automobile. According to body cam footage used as evidence in a lawsuit brought by Ennis’s son, a second deputy then tackled the older man to the ground, striking his head on the concrete.

“Let me up, please!” With two officers on top of him, Ennis screamed. “Let me leave!” The arrest was witnessed by a Front Royal police officer horrified by what he had just seen. He may be heard saying, “That was unjust and  -called for,” in his body camera footage. Christ Jesus

Massive brain bleeding sent Ennis to the hospital, where he passed away two weeks later. (A medical examiner determined that he passed away naturally.) Ennis’ son sued the two officers in August, claiming that they used excessive force that contributed to his father’s death. Both cops vehemently denied any wrongdoing in court documents.

Given the ongoing litigation and criminal investigation, Chief Deputy Jeffrey Driskill of the Warren County Sheriff’s Department wrote in an email that he could not comment on the case’s specifics. However, he did confirm that one of the involved officers had left the department. A prosecutor in Virginia is still examining the issue.

According to Driskill, all Virginia police officers receive fundamental training in “communicating with folks with cognitive disabilities.” “Our organisation takes pride in proactively handling the elderly.”

worries about force and strategy

When it became apparent that Navejas’ mental state was worsening, he was still residing in Austin, Texas, with his wife, according to his daughter. He began leaving ice cream in the refrigerator or discarding the bag and garbage can.

He started to lose weight as his walk evolved into a shuffle. He was dazzled by the bright lights and roaring sounds. He was reduced to using only hand signals and his distinctive laugh as his voice gradually faded away. To be nearer to family, the couple decided to return to El Paso, where Navejas was up.

When Josephine was in the bathroom, he started sneaking out the back door before leaving the house. Because Josephine could not drive at night or go without a car due to her glaucoma, she had to phone 911 for assistance. His daughter claimed that when police saw Navejas walking through a nearby apartment building or sitting on the curb at a nearby gas station, they would bring him back.