Oct 01, 2014
This past Thursday a man in Greenville County was attempting to take his own life by jumping off of a bridge when Greenville Deputy Gene Clark successfully pulled the man back from the ledge.
When investigators weren’t getting far talking him down, Deputy Gene Clark said he saw an opportunity to step in before it was too late. Working traffic patrol, Clark responded to a call to help block the highway around 6:30 p.m. He said an off-duty investigator tried negotiating with the man, and when Clark drove past the man sitting on the wall, he realized the man wasn’t paying attention to him. That’s when he decided to try to grab the man by his shirt. “When he saw me, he started to lurch forward, and I started to pull back as hard as I could, and we both fell to the interstate,” said Clark. In 13 years with the sheriff’s office, Clark said he’s never done anything like this. “You don’t realize it at the time that you’re doing something, but once you realize, ‘OK, everything’s safe now,’ then you start to come down and realize, ‘Wow, that was scary,'” explained Clark. He, along with many other police and deputies, are trained by the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, or NAMI, on how to work with the mentally ill.
Paton Blough was also interviewed about this situation–praising how well it was handled.
Now Blough trains Greenville city and county officers on how to best to interact with people who need mental health. Blough watched the deputy’s video and thinks that law enforcement handled the situation very well. He said he was impressed that the officers didn’t stand too closely as they tried to speak with the man.
Paton has also been able to witness improved treatment of mentally ill individuals and their families by the Greenville police in a recent settlement case. Greenville County has recently paid a settlement to the family of the deceased Andrew Torres who lived with schizophrenia. Torres was tragically killed during a violent encounter with police officials in 2010. Since then, Paton and NAMI Greenville have been working to implement CIT (Crisis Intervention Team) training into the Greenville police force to help prevent such tragedies happening in the future.
“It hit home to me personally very closely,” Blough said. Blough has bipolar disorder and he has experienced being tazed and pepper sprayed. He said watching what happened to Andrew Torres was a catalyst for him getting involved as an advocate. After getting treatment, he thought it was important for police to understand mental illness and how best to handle it. He took part in meetings put on with police and the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “It was a big turning point in my life because i had officers clapping for me versus arresting me,” Blough said. In the years since Torres’ death, the Greenville Police has put an emphasis on crisis intervention training. 118 officers have now been trained in a 40 hour course, which makes it one of the most trained departments in the state. The training teaches officers how to understand what goes through the minds of the mentally ill and how to de-escalate crisis situations. Blough and a lieutenant from Greenville Police will be going to a national Crisis Intervention Training conference next month.