A Colorado Springs man experiencing an acute psychotic episode died after he was tased and held down by five officers after he brandished a knife and threatened his neighbors in a gated community near The Broadmoor, according to his autopsy released last month.
Chad Burnett, 49, died May 24 as a result of the struggle, the El Paso County Coroner’s Office stated, as well as injuries from the Taser, bipolar disorder and cardiac hypertrophy, or an abnormally enlarged heart.
The 4th Judicial District Attorney’s Office has not ruled whether the officers involved were justified in their use of force, but mental health experts argue Burnett’s death highlights an alarming gap in resources for those experiencing mental health crises in Colorado Springs.
Some say he could still be alive if a different strategy — one geared toward helping those experiencing mental health crises — were used.
“When police, who are untrained to manage mental health response, respond, bad things happen,” said Vincent Atchity, president of Mental Health Colorado, a nonprofit that promotes equitable access to mental health resources for people across the state.
“And this is a classic case of what happens when police are responding to a mental health crisis and don’t know what they are doing.”
Given the overwhelming percentage of calls police receive that involve some kind of mental health crisis, Atchity called the lack of training among all officers “unconscionable.”
A CSPD spokesman declined to say whether the responding officers were trained in crisis intervention.
While de-escalation methods aren’t always effective, the ability to recognize Burnett’s mental illness, and communicate in a way geared toward helping those in crisis states, could have drastically altered the situation, experts said after watching the body-worn camera footage of the incident.
Terri Hurst, policy coordinator for Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, called Burnett’s death “a failure in the mental health care system,” and one that shows the stigma around mental health disorders and the challenge in accessing mental health care in Colorado.
In the two weeks prior to Burnett’s fatal encounter with police, the city’s mental health response team was called twice to his home, according to a history of 911 call responses made to…
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