Although some law enforcement officers across the state receive specific training that helps deal with a person experiencing a mental crisis, mental health officials say the number of officers receiving that training could be much higher.
That need for more training has left some wondering if the death of an Arizona man — Brian Cardall — who died this week after being hit with a Taser by a Hurricane police officer, could have possibly been avoided.
The Salt Lake Police Department provides crisis intervention training for police agencies across the state. Crisis intervention training helps officers who complete the course to identify characteristics of various mental disorders and teaches them how to adapt their approaches in those situations.
National Alliance on Mental Illness Utah's executive director Sherri Wittwer says Utah's 40-hour training program is the "gold standard" of training courses in that area.
"It is an excellent program that is available to agencies, but we need more of them to participate in that training," she said.
Hurricane police have repeatedly refused to provide details about what happened to Cardall, and the Washington County Critical Task Force is investigating the incident. It consists of a group of detectives from throughout the county that investigates homicides and police-related deaths.
What little information is known is that officers and medical personnel responded to a call for assistance with an agitated man on state Route 59 Tuesday. At some point, a Hurricane police officer deployed a Taser and Cardall, 32, lost consciousness. Cardall was treated within moments by paramedics but was pronounced dead after being transported to a local hospital.
Cardall is the son of KSL editorial director Duane Cardall.
Family members say Brian Cardall and his wife, who is six months pregnant, had been visiting his family in Salt Lake City. As they were driving home to Flagstaff, Ariz., his wife said Cardall, who is bipolar, was having an episode and that prompted them to pull over in order to medicate him.
At some point, Cardall got out of the vehicle and began to run down the road. That's when his wife called 911. She later learned he had been hit with a Taser and was unresponsive.
According to NAMI Utah, some rural and smaller agencies across the state have sent officers to receive the crisis intervention training, but the majority that have attended have been from the bigger cities across the Wasatch Front.
"It is valuable training that benefits people with mental illness, their families, the officers that respond to these incidents and the community as a whole," Wittwer said.
Wittwer said that from the information she has been given, the Hurricane Police Department has not taken part in the crisis intervention training.
Police officers have the extremely difficult job of identifying the difference between someone having a mental health crisis and someone who has taken drugs, she said.
"But this training really does help officers to identify the behaviors connected with mental illness and to adapt their approach with those people," Wittwer said.
A Washington County woman, who asked to remain anonymous, witnessed part of the incident with Cardall as she drove by Tuesday. The woman told KSL, "You could tell something was wrong with him."
She said he had taken off his clothes and was waving his hands as if he was directing traffic in front of two officers. The woman said she saw the incident for about a minute and during that time didn't see Cardall acting aggressively.
"I don't think he should have been Tasered," the woman told KSL. "It was obvious he had no weapon; no weapon was in his hand."
Wittwer said she did not want to speculate on what happened with Cardall, or if a mental illness made someone more susceptible to injury or death when being Tasered.
During the past two years, the National Institute of Justice has conducted a study of in-custody deaths, which have occurred following the use of conducted energy devices, or Tasers. On the first page of the interim report, released last summer, the report says studies undertaken by law enforcement agencies using CEDs shows that there are reduced injuries to officers and suspects resulting from use-of-force encounters and reduced use of deadly force.
"However, a significant number of individuals have died after exposure to a (Taser)," the report says. "Some were normal healthy adults; others were chemically dependent or had heart disease or mental illness."
An autopsy was conducted on Cardall on Wednesday but Washington County Undersheriff Jake Adams said the results of that autopsy most likely won't be available for a couple of weeks.