Southern California Attorneys Call For More Police Training On How to Handle Mentally Ill

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When law enforcement officers can’t recognize signs of mental illness, it can lead to brutality and tragedy, say Southern California criminal defense lawyers of Lessem & Newstat, LLP.

Ventura, Los Angeles, LA, Fullerton, Southern California, criminal defense, mental health, civil rights, police brutality, lawyers, attorneys, law firm, lawsuit

Ventura County criminal defense lawyer Joshua E. Newstat

When officers can’t recognize the signs of mental illness or how to react to a suspect with mental illness, it can lead to situations that quickly spiral out of control and have the potential to end in tragedy.

The recent death of a schizophrenic Fullerton man after a clash with police officers should serve as a wakeup call for law enforcement agencies across California, Ventura criminal defense attorney Joshua Newstat says.

According to an article in USA Today, six officers were trying to search the man after reports of break-ins that had occurred in the college town southeast of Los Angeles. A fight erupted. The man died of severe head and neck injuries. The incident is being investigated.

“We need to do a better job of training police officers on how to deal with the mentally ill,” says Newstat, a partner of the Southern California criminal defense law firm of Lessem & Newstat, LLP, which handles cases involving mental health and police brutality.

“When officers can’t recognize the signs of mental illness or how to react to a suspect with mental illness, it can lead to situations that quickly spiral out of control and have the potential to end in tragedy,” Newstat says. “We don’t know exactly what happened in Fullerton, but we do know that, with proper training, we can improve police treatment of the mentally ill.”

Jeremy Lessem, a veteran Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer and partner of Lessem & Newstat, LLP, says that a program being used to train Los Angeles Police Department officers is a step in the right direction but still not enough.

According to USA Today, the LAPD requires all officers to take an eight-hour training course on mental illness. More than 1,000 of the officers have also received an intensive 40-hour course.

“This training hopefully helps officers to tell the difference between a person going through a mental health episode and a person who is posing a legitimate threat,” Lessem says. “Unfortunately, what an officer learns in a class doesn’t always carry over to the streets."

“That’s when it’s important for a police brutality victim, or their family, to contact an attorney who has experience in dealing with excessive force, including excessive use of Tasers, and who is passionate about holding police accountable for violations of civil rights,” he says.

It’s also important for mentally ill individuals to have an attorney who will pay attention to their unique needs if the individual is charged with a crime, says Newstat, who serves on the Board of Directors of the Ventura County chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Newstat says that Ventura County and other courts across California have implemented mental health courts. Qualifying offenders who are brought to the mental health court may be able to receive court-ordered mental health treatment, which can go a long way toward promoting psychological wellness, Newstat says.

“Our law firm believes strongly that treatment, rather than incarceration, is the most effective solution for people with mental illness who become entangled in our criminal justice system,” Newstat says.

About Lessem & Newstat, LLP

Lessem & Newstat, LLP is a full service Southern California law firm concentrating in criminal defense and civil litigation. The firm’s criminal defense attorneys represent clients in matters that include DUI, DMV/traffic offenses, hit and run, drug crimes, domestic violence, theft, fraud, murder, violent crimes, firearm possession, white collar crimes, sex offenses, probation violations, expungement, elder abuse and mental health law. The firm also handles business, personal injury, civil rights, police brutality and products liability cases.

Lessem & Newstat’s main offices are located in Sherman Oaks and Ventura, California, and the firm serves communities throughout Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, including San Fernando, Ventura, Pasadena, Burbank, Glendale, Van Nuys, the San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Sylmar, Lancaster, Santa Clarita, Beverly Hills, Hollywood, Malibu, Santa Monica, Venice, Airport Courthouse, Compton, Pomona, Inglewood, Simi Valley, Oxnard, Westlake, Thousand Oaks, Santa Paula, Fillmore, Ojai, Camarillo and Port Hueneme.

To learn more about Lessem & Newstat, LLP, call the firm at (800) 295-1054 or use its convenient online form.

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