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Mental Illness and Murder: Maurice Clemmons November 30, 2009

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Delusions, Mental Hospital, mental illness.
Tags: , , ,

Here’s the real story: Mentally Ill Man Commits Murder.

Here we go again: Man with long history of Mental Illness shoots  4 police officers at point-blank range, killing all four.

Some of us diagnosed with mental illness will surely recognize some of Clemmons’ behavior- obviously not the extremes of murders or rapes- as versions of our own behavior. We can relate to some of the things that Clemmons believed.  It’s a matter of degrees. “There but for the Grace of God go I…”

Example 1:

Him: Clemmons gathered his wife and young relatives together at around at 3 or 4 in the morning on a Sunday. He told them all to undress, explaining that families need to be naked for at least 5 minutes on a Sunday. (Pierce County (WA) Police Report) Me: I took my clothes off in a hospital emergency room in the belief that I was a Mermaid.

Example 2:

Him: Clemmons believed 1) that he was Moses, 2) that he was Jesus Christ, and 3) that the world was going to end very soon. Me: I believed that I  was ordained by God to bring wisdom to the masses.

Example 3:

Him:  Clemmons believed that he could fly, and that he expected President Obama to visit to “confirm that he is Messiah in the flesh”. Me: I believed that God gave me special gifts including ESP, and that my rich and powerful friends including the Dalai Lama, Oprah Winfrey, and Bill and Melinda Gates gave me an unlimited supply of money.

Prosecutors in Pierce County were sufficiently concerned about Clemmons’ mental health that they asked to have him evaluated at Western State Hospital (WA). On Nov. 6, a psychologist concluded that Clemmons was competent to stand trial on the child-rape and other felony charges, according to court records. Twenty three days later, the mentally ill man killed four police officers.  Two days later, Clemmons was shot and killed by a police officer.

Clearly, Clemmons was mentally ill on November 6th, but his psychologist wasn’t paid to find out whether he was sufficiently mentally ill enough to require treatment for his mental illness.  The psychologist was only interested in one thing: Was Clemmons able to stand trial for rape?  The point here is that something must have triggered the request for the mental evaluation. What was it? And why wasn’t he assessed for a mental illness at the same time? Why did the assessment stop at finding out whether he was competent enough to stand trial?

What I really fail to understand is how come a man who committed several crimes and exhibited bizarre behavior and who prosecutors had evaluated for a competency hearing wasn’t committed, either voluntarily or involuntarily, to a mental hospital for treatment. How can it be that I was committed but he wasn’t?

Unfortunately, there is a distinct difference between assessing Clemmons for mental illness severe enough to require an insanity defense and assessing Clemmons for specific mental illnesses and treating said illnesses. Had the two assessments been integrated, five people would still be alive.

The murder of those four police officers was a tragedy beyond words. But there’s another tragedy here: the mess the Mental Health care system is in.

I know from personal experience how difficult it is to get mentally ill people help. I won’t be surprised to learn that his family members have been trying to get him the help he needs for years. But until he kills someone or tries to kill himself, the mental health community cannot help him. And yet even that wasn’t enough. Was it his race?

There aren’t enough psychiatrists to help all the mentally ill who need help. There aren’t enough mental health hospital beds for everyone who needs help.  The mental health care system is broken, and these things, including the senseless murder of those four officers yesterday and the murder of Officer Timothy Brenton on Halloween, are the price we pay for it. Until we fix the system, including making it much easier to seek and get help for the mentally ill, these senseless acts will continue to happen. Let’s fix the broken system and save lives.



1. Cristina Fender - December 1, 2009

What a terrible tragedy that could’ve been avoided! It’s so sad that his psychiatrist was so incompetent. I bet he does things differently in the future. I feel for his family. They not only have to live with the things he’s done, but now he’s gone from them and will probably live the rest of his life in a mental institution.

So sad.

Crazy Mermaid - December 1, 2009

I think they’re going to give him the chair.

2. Serial Insomniac - December 1, 2009

What a tragic, tragic case; it’s particularly sad that the killing of the police officers could have been avoided.

On an almost incidental note, the way the media portrays mental illness is a major concern too. I’m unsure about the article to which you refer to, CM, but here something like this would get the headline, “PSYCHO NUTJOB COP KILLER” or some such, and the ensuing article would be a load of dross reinforcing the idea that all of us with diagnosable mental diseases must harbour murderous tendencies. I have no problem with them pointing out that a minority of mentally ill people are thus afflicted, but they always seem to escape the proven statistic that we’re much more likely to be the victims of crime than the perpetrators thereof.

Anyway, my sympathies are with the families of the police officers killed, and indeed with Clemmons’ family also, for they are due to lose a loved one too – one that was not in control of his actions.

How sad all round.

3. BowlingJoe - December 3, 2009

Great post. Very insightful and well thought out. I don’t know about how much race played into this scenario but clearly we as a society need to put more effort and resources into dealing with the mental conditions of individuals such as Clemmons. None of us has the proverbial crystal ball, but clearly there can be measures to minimize the chances of this kind of thing taking place in the future.

4. macs - January 22, 2010

I told you tonight, but wanted to say more. I know exactly why police officers are shot! The delusions, anxiety, and lack of help… I am very resourceful, but not enough to get my son the help that he needs. Everyday, I come home from work and look in the tree that he threatens to kill himself from. Then, I look in our outbuilding where my husband works to see if he’s been stabbed. After that, I walk on eggshells. MHP’s can’t prove anything and when he tried to hospitalize himself, they said no~ he’s previously been involuntarily hospitalized, so he poses a flight risk. I used to be able to calm him, but now, his delusions say that I am the enemy. His case manager believes that nothing can be done until he begs her for help. Yup, you may see us in the news too. Will it get the same headlines? No. Will it matter? Yes. I help a lot of families. I am simply unable to help my son.

Crazy Mermaid - January 23, 2010

Thank you for your encouraging words last night and for this brave response. As you know, you’re not alone.

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