A Lafayette group of advocates for mental health has issued a statement about a recent deputy suicide.
Last week, a deputy took his own life outside the Lafayette Parish Sheriff's Office. Before he did so, he posted several videos on his social media accounts which show a man struggling with despair.
Meaningful Minds of Louisiana, which describes itself as a Lafayette-based statewide organization of individuals with lived experience of a mental health condition, issued a statement honoring the deputy, but calling for change in the Lafayette Police Department.
Among the statements in his video were calls for mental health and wellness checks and support for police officers.
“The general public doesn’t know what we go through,” he said. “Police officers are exposed to the debris and the bottom rungs of society, and then they’re expected to keep a stiff chin and pretend that it’s not affecting you. I’m telling you, it’s affecting you. It’s affecting your psyche, and it’s going to manifest itself in some way.”
"I don’t think annual is good enough," he added, referring to mental health check-ups. "Because a lot can happen in a year. Whether it be semi-annual or quarterly, it needs to happen. And the stigma that surrounds it, that needs to be lifted too. We need help. People need help. It’s OK to say you need help. You get exposed to a lot going through lot. I’ve been exposed to a lot.”
Also in his video, he said what he was about to do was his "protest against police brutality and everything else that comes along with this broken, wicked, wordly system that does not give a damn about people. I don’t know what it cares about, but it does not care about us. It does not. It does not.”
MMLA Chief Executive Officer Jennifer Randal-Thorpe referred to that comment in her statement.
"Even preceding this latest tragedy, MMLA had been working to galvanize government officials to create a profound change in law enforcement locally and, ideally, throughout the state. The advocates’ efforts began last September, following the tragic death of Trayford Pellerin —a Black man who was dealing with mental health issues — when MMLA representatives met with Lafayette Mayor Josh Guillory," the statement reads.
“When we explained how mental health professionals could collaborate with law enforcement on mental health calls, Mayor Guillory expressed interest and suggested that a cabinet member follow up,” Randal-Thorpe said. “We discussed some models for this kind of collaborative approach, such as CAHOOTS [tinyurl.com], in Eugene, Ore.”
"At the same time, MMLA began negotiations with the Lafayette Police Department to offer Emotional CPR [emotional-cpr.org] (eCPR) to educate police on how to better communicate with individuals who have mental health conditions. Emotional CPR is a nationally certified educational program recommended by CARF International, which accredits health and human services on five continents," the release continues.
“It looked very promising,” said Randal-Thorpe, “and the police department was scheduled to begin coursework in November. But our proposal was ultimately declined.”
Since the deputy died, Randal-Thorpe and other MMLA members have met twice with Lafayette’s new chief of police, Thomas Glover, who has agreed to resume negotiations about offering eCPR to Lafayette police officers, the statement says.
Randal-Thorpe says she is hopeful that, with the new chief leading the Police Department, the changes that MMLA has advocated for—and that the deputy believed were essential—may soon occur.
She says the current situation is "intolerable," and calls the deputy's death "the last straw."
Randal-Thorpe says they will be reaching out to the Lafayette Parish Sheriff's Office in hopes of speaking with Sheriff Mark Garber.