“There’s no reason to have her in handcuffs if she’s in a locked room unless they felt she was going to harm herself,” he said. “My question is: Why was she handcuffed in a locked room? If the answer is, ‘We were concerned for her safety,’ then bingo — they thought she was possibly suicidal.”
How the Chicago Police Department has historically responded to calls involving mental health crises is one of the central reforms outlined by a court-mandated federal consent decree implemented in 2019. Although the department remains under the scope of an independent court monitor, activists say the department has moved at a glacial pace in implementing changes. In its last report, published March 2021, only half the requirements were met.
The department said in its own internal report published in September that it strengthened policies and training “to ensure that individuals experiencing mental and behavioral health crises are treated with dignity and respect, and, where possible, are referred to appropriate resources for additional support.” As of June 2021, 191 police officers completed new two-day training sessions and were certified according to guidelines set by national Crisis Intervention Team programs. A total of 3,000 officers are CIT-certified, according to the department.
However, Hayes said the standard law enforcement procedure for arrestees expressing unusual behavior or identifying themselves as suicidal is to conduct an intake screening that asks questions about their mental health history. “What often happens is they have pretty good policies and procedures, but they are not practiced appropriately,” he said.
According to the arrest report, police responded to two 911 calls at Jeffery Pub, a gay bar on the city’s South Side, after Chavez allegedly punched a security guard and spat on another after being told she could not play a jukebox. Police arrived to find Chavez on the sidewalk in handcuffs, bound by the guard. She was compliant but upset, repeatedly telling officers that she was a military veteran with PTSD and that she needed a therapist.
The complaint says that Chavez sang “You Are My Sunshine” repeatedly while in transport to the station but changed the lyric to “please don’t take my life away.” While in custody, she repeatedly tried to get the attention of the arresting officers by throwing coins at the observation window and, according to the arrest report, shouting, “It was self-defense!” and “I’m a veteran, I have PTSD! Talk to my therapist!”
Chavez had no prior police record. According to the lawsuit, she served two tours overseas, first in Afghanistan and Kuwait, and then in South Korea, for a total of six years. While on duty, she received at least seven commendation medals and awards for good conduct and service. She also suffered at least two concussions and, upon returning home, began drinking heavily and became paranoid and withdrawn from her family. Chavez struggled to maintain a job and was ultimately fired from Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where she worked as an intake specialist. Records from the local veterans hospital, where she was receiving mental health treatment, showed a diagnosis of PTSD that was serious enough that she had a suicide safety plan.
“She entered the military in perfect health as someone who really excelled and when she left, it is quite clear she suffered significantly. The downward trajectory is quite clear,” Bedi said.
Chavez was on the verge of homelessness, Bedi said, and could be heard on video telling police that she had no home.
In July, the city announced that it was starting a pilot program in 13 neighborhoods where certified mental health specialists would accompany police on calls. In 2019, Chicago police officers responded to more than 40,000 calls that involved a person with a mental health issue. Late last year, the city said its 911 call center would be staffed with a mental health professional to help assess calls.