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Needs to be Monitored

Posted Jun 15 2010 3:32pm
This is again the story that I hate to hear about, mentally ill, brilliant mind, not on meds. These people do not deserve to be shot dead, but they should be monitored, if diagnosed by a medical doctor, and they choose to not take the prescribed medicine, then they should be asked to be monitored by professionals before their mania and delusions get out of control. This is again a needless death due to a severe mental illness that was not being treated with meds. because the patient chose to not take the prescribed medicine. I feel the pain of the family as I am sure they stood on the sidelines with their hands tied by laws that will not allow them to interfere with the choices their loved one chose to make in his manic/delusional frame of mind.

Officer cleared in Henry Co. fatal shooting
A prosecutor said police were justified in shooting the man, who had a mental illness but stopped taking medication.

After Donald Barry Minter pulled a hunting knife at a Kroger supermarket, after he charged police officers in the parking lot, after he led them on a high-speed chase, after he swung his knife once again when stun guns failed to stop him, a Martinsville police officer had no choice but to shoot him dead.

That was the conclusion released Monday by Henry County Commonwealth's Attorney Bob Bushnell.

In a detailed, five-page chronology of the events of April 29, Bushnell wrote that Officer Douglas Graham was "completely justified" in shooting Minter. The decision also explained how Minter, a 61-year-old former lab technician for the city of Martinsville, was driven to his death by severe mental illness.

"In a less sophisticated era, it would have been said that he was possessed by demons," Bushnell wrote.

Minter's brother, David Minter of Axton, said Monday that he understands the prosecutor's decision not to charge Graham or three other officers involved in the confrontation.

Donald Minter had struggled with mental illness most of his life, his brother said, but became "unable to deal with reality" several years ago when he stopped taking his medication.

"He had a brilliant mind," David Minter said of his brother. "But he also had schizophrenia and was bi-polar and manic depressive."

Both Minter and Bushnell said the case illustrates a need in Virginia for legislation that would enhance monitoring of mental health patients who, for whatever reason, refuse to take their medication -- posing a threat to themselves and others.

Bushnell's decision came after a state police investigation of the shooting. From more than 40 witness interviews, hundreds of documents and video surveillance from the grocery store and the officers' patrol cars, Bushnell put together the following, uncontested narrative
At about 11:30 on the morning of April 29, Minter and his elderly mother showed up at the Kroger store on Commonwealth Boulevard, where they were well-known as regular shoppers who took pains to avoid black cashiers.

If all of the cashiers on duty were black, the Minters would return their items to the shelves and leave empty-handed. But on this particular day, after arguing with his mother, Minter shopped alone and wound up in a checkout line staffed by a black woman.

He became angry when told he owed about $65, saying his items were worth no more than $40. When the cashier picked up the telephone to call a manager, Minter grabbed the cord and sliced it with a bone-handled hunting knife.

He then placed two $20 bills on the counter and left with his groceries.

A few minutes later, when police arrived, Minter was loading his groceries into the trunk of his car. He charged at the first police cruiser on the scene, repeatedly stabbing the driver's side window so hard the knife left scratches on the glass.

Minter then ran back to his car, unaffected by a second officer's attempt to stop him with high-voltage Taser darts.

After a short struggle, and another failed Taser shot, Minter sped away. Running red lights, he led police on a chase that took them north on Virginia Avenue at speeds of up to 80 mph.

Minter's car was eventually rammed by a police cruiser and came to a stop along a chain link fence. He then scrambled out of the passenger's side window and ran off. Graham and fellow officer Anita Sowers chased after him.

After getting within 15 feet of her suspect, Sowers yelled at him to stop or she would fire her Taser. When she did, it had no effect on Minter, who then whirled around and rushed at her with his knife raised.

"Graham saw what was happening and, fearing that Minter had already cut Sowers with the knife, fired a single shot with his .45-caliber pistol at Minter's midsection," Bushnell wrote.

Minter fell to the ground, still grasping his knife. He died a short time later.

Had Graham held his fire or even hesitated, Sowers would have been injured or killed, the prosecutor said.

Investigators were unable to determine why Minter was unaffected by the Taser shots, which either missed him or malfunctioned.

As part of his review, Bushnell spoke to family members, who described Minter as a quiet and peaceful man when on his prescribed drugs. But without them, he became paranoid and aggressive.

"We all agree that Donald Minter died not because he was a bad man, but because he was a sick man whose failure to take his medications resulted in conduct that gave the police no option but to shoot him," Bushnell wrote.

Despite his struggles with mental illness, Donald Minter earned a degree in biology from Virginia Commonwealth University and spent about 25 years as a lab technician working at Martinsville's water and sewer treatment plant.

As he grew older, Minter's mental condition deteriorated to the point that he believed he no longer needed treatment, his brother said.

Bushnell said he hopes the incident will spur a new law in Virginia to require closer monitoring of people who, like Minter, become dangerous when they go off their medication.

Up to 60 percent of people with Minter's diagnosis have anosognosia, a neurological condition in which they cannot acknowledge they are mentally ill, according to Aileen Kroll, legislative and policy counsel for the Treatment Advocacy Center, an Arlington-based organization that works for better treatment of the mentally ill. Failure to take medication is a common symptom of anosognosia.

Virginia is one of 44 states that have an outpatient treatment system that is considered an effective way of ensuring that mental patients take their medications.

But according to Kroll, the criteria for those who fall under Virginia's system is too restrictive, and gaps in supervision are common.

"There are people who will argue that Virginia can't do better because of the fiscal crisis, but frankly, how can we afford not to?" Kroll said. Until the state does more to improve its understaffed mental health system, critics say, there will always be another case like the one of Donald Minter.

"He's gone," David Minter said of his brother. "But let's help somebody else who is going through this."
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