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PLN managing editor comments on suicidal woman charged with homicide in officer's death

Nashville Scene, March 2, 2017.

MNPD Is Pressing Charges After a Failed Suicide Attempt

Does charging a potentially suicidal woman with homicide deter others who might need help?

MAR 2, 2017 5 AM
On a 40-degree morning in early February, three Metro Nashville police officers responded to a call about a potentially suicidal woman, her car parked on the bank of the Cumberland River in Peeler Park. She was ready to drive into the frigid water.

Officers Eric Mumaw, Trent Craig and Ryan Henehan stood around Juli Glisson’s four-door sedan attempting to get her to exit her vehicle. She sat in the front seat with her foot on the brake, according to Craig, who was standing at Glisson’s window talking with her directly.

According to police, Glisson “asked Officer Craig what would happen if she drove the vehicle into the river. Officer Craig advised her that he and other officers would have to make an attempt to save her. Officer Craig stated the defendant appeared to be extremely intoxicated but was coherent enough to carry on a conversation with him.”

According to an arrest warrant, Glisson then put the car into drive, causing Mumaw, who had been trying to open the driver’s side door, to slip on the boat ramp and be “pulled into the river by the suspect vehicle.” He drowned after not being able to regain footing in the river.

Police quickly announced the department’s intent to charge Glisson with aggravated vehicular homicide — even before she was discharged from the hospital. She was formally charged on the day of Mumaw’s funeral, which was broadcast on several local news stations and drew large crowds of mourners. Driving over the Woodland Street Bridge toward the courthouse complex on the day of Glisson’s first hearing about a week after the incident, you could see a billboard with Mumaw’s image.

Mumaw and the officers came to the scene because a member of Glisson’s family had called and said Glisson was potentially suicidal.

“I think the charges — when she obviously needed help — speak to an effort to criminalize everything,” says Alex Friedmann, associate director of the Human Rights Defense Center, a nonprofit that advocates on behalf of people held in U.S. detention facilities. “We criminalize substance abuse as well as a number of other things related to mental health.”

Friedmann acknowledges that Glisson’s case was unusual in terms of outcome, but says charging Glisson with homicide may have a negative impact on families seeking help for a loved one struggling with mental health issues. 

“She’s not going to get the help she needs in prison,” says Friedmann, who was in prison for 10 years in the late ’90s and has done prison advocacy work since. “The fact that she was seemingly trying to kill herself, and then tragically someone else dies — in this case, the officer trying to help her — does not mean that someone needs to be at fault, or charged.”

Don Aaron, spokesperson for MNPD, says the department doesn’t believe a homicide charge for Glisson will keep families from feeling comfortable with calling for help.

“This was a very unusual situation, the specific circumstances of which I cannot recall occurring in the past,” Aaron says.

But what Aaron says is not unusual is the department receiving calls from “concerned family members or other citizens to help with an individual experiencing a crisis who may potentially be suicidal.”

“Officers work to help with these type situations, which sometimes extend across precincts, counties and even state lines,” Aaron says. “Concerned persons experiencing issues with an individual in crisis who may be suicidal should contact the police department as soon as possible so that our resources can assist.”

Theeda Murphy, a suicide crisis care consultant at Centerstone, says she “absolutely” sees the homicide charge as a deterrent to families and people suffering with mental health issues, but there aren’t really any better options out there currently. She’s worked with the police in the past in crisis situations involving suicidal individuals.

“Our mental health resources are so inadequate, especially crisis resources, and people end up going to jail,” Murphy says. “That’s the default — the criminal justice system — and I can’t help but feel that building up our mental health resources is the only thing we can do to keep people out of jail.”

Before the incident, which occurred on Feb. 2, Glisson was on probation for a 2016 DUI conviction, and police say her blood-alcohol content during the early February incident was greater than 0.21. The arrest warrant says that Glisson told an officer she’d drunk “seven or eight beers prior to the interaction.” And since 2003, Glisson has faced several drinking-related charges, including public intoxication and two DUIs.

“I see that as a long history of treating mental health issues with a substance,” Murphy says, adding that she doesn’t know Glisson’s medical history and has not worked with her as a patient. “But I know from being a crisis counselor that it is common with people who don’t have access to insurance or consistent access to treatment to end up in the criminal justice system. The police come out, and the person gets agitated, and then they get arrested. [Glisson’s] case is obviously the worst of what can happen.”

The Davidson County District Attorney’s Office says it plans to move forward with Glisson’s preliminary hearing on March 14, but will not make official charging decisions until after that hearing. If convicted, Glisson could serve a prison sentence of eight to 30 years. Glisson will be represented by Kevin Griffith, an attorney with the Nashville Public Defender’s Office. That office declined to comment.