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Soldier's spouse in jail after suicide crisis

Jan. 22, 2013 - 08:51AM   |   Last Updated: Jan. 22, 2013 - 08:51AM  |  
James Garrett III with his granddaughter, Wynter.
James Garrett III with his granddaughter, Wynter. (Family photo)
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An Army sergeant was in a Fort Riley, Kan., convenience store late Nov. 28 when he glanced at his cellphone.

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An Army sergeant was in a Fort Riley, Kan., convenience store late Nov. 28 when he glanced at his cellphone.

He had just received a chilling text from close friend and on-post neighbor James Garrett:

"Sorry, buddy. Tell [my son] I loved him," wrote Garrett, an Army veteran and spouse.

The sergeant knew Garrett was having some difficulties. His wife, an active-duty soldier who asked that her name not be used, was in Afghanistan, and he had recently learned his sister had entered hospice care.

"I knew he was down, but I didn't know how bad it was," said the sergeant, who requested that his name not be used to safeguard his career.

Still, while speaking with Garrett earlier that day, the sergeant had been concerned enough to mention that mental health services are available at Irwin Army Community Hospital on post.

The sergeant remembers giving Garrett the phone number to behavioral health. But according to the sergeant and Garrett's wife, James couldn't get a same-day appointment, and when he dialed referral numbers the hospital gave him, he was placed on perpetual hold or faced busy signals.

By 9 p.m., a despondent Garrett reached for a Taurus 1911 semi-automatic pistol, one of 18 guns he had in his home.

He did not die that night.

Still, what happened next can't be considered a successful mental health crisis intervention — particularly since Garrett has been in jail ever since, without any of the mental health care his wife and friends say he needs.

‘Straight to guns drawn'

After receiving the text message from Garrett, the sergeant dashed to his friend's house to talk to him. During a break in the conversation, the sergeant asked his own wife to get help.

Military police responded to the 911 call, but in a manner the sergeant and Garrett's wife said is inconsistent with basic Army suicide prevention training.

"In my professional opinion, there was no crisis intervention. They went straight to guns drawn," the sergeant said. "They started screaming at him to put the gun down. [His son] came down the stairs to find out what was going on, and they pointed a gun at him. I was in the kitchen pleading for them to calm down and they told me to get the f--- out of the house."

Fort Riley officials declined repeated requests for comment.

Last year, 349 active-duty troops killed themselves. By some estimates, 18 veterans die each day by suicide. The services have no data on spouse suicides or attempts.

To battle what's been called an epidemic, police nationwide have been pushing to train at least a quarter of their forces to respond to mental health crises.

The Crisis Intervention Training international conference last year staged seven workshops on relationships between law enforcement and veterans, and many military police receive the intensive 40-hour training as they progress in their careers.

But at the military police level, Army MPs do not get intensive crisis intervention training.

At the MP school at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., they learn communication skills and techniques to deal with domestic disturbances and are taught to recognize warnings of suicide. They also are instructed to call a behavioral specialist and transport a suspect to a hospital if a mental health crisis is suspected.

A signed police affidavit indicates officers in Garrett's case drew their weapons as they left their squad car. They took up positions at the door frame and "observed Garrett sitting on the couch with a handgun."

They commanded him to drop his weapon "nine or 10" times; they said he disobeyed and pointed it toward them.

The sergeant, in the kitchen at the time, remembers differently. "They busted in the house and were inside the house before they even identified themselves. Then they saw the gun and retreated back through the door."

Eventually, Garrett dropped the magazine and cleared the weapon. He was arrested.

He spent nine hours at the on-post hospital under psychological observation and went to jail, signing a statement that he pointed his gun at officers and intimated that he wanted them to kill him.

Since his arrest, Garrett was in military custody at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., until he was recently moved to Butner Federal Corrections Facility, N.C., for another psychological evaluation.

He faces charges that he "forcibly assaulted, resisted, opposed, impeded" or intimidated MPs.

As far as his wife is aware, he is getting no mental health treatment and is facing up to 20 years in prison, she said in an interview.

Garrett's lawyer did not respond to requests for comment.

‘So many suicides'

Garrett's wife said she thinks he needs to be in a hospital, not jail.

"I understand my husband should have handled things differently, but if this is how the military treats our families and soldiers, it's no wonder there are so many suicides in the Army," she said.

Although the MPs in the case lacked intervention training, they likely acted appropriately, said Michael Woody, a CIT instructor and spokesman.

Woody said that although the course teaches skills to defuse a life-or-death situation, "all bets are off" when a weapon is involved.

"Safety comes before de-escalation skills," he said.

Garrett's wife has requested an inspector general inquiry into her husband's treatment at the Fort Riley hospital, charging that the facility told her husband it could not take him because he was not on active duty.

She also wants to know why he was held for nine hours when a 72-hour hold is commonplace for suicide attempts.

A judge has ordered Garrett, who his wife said had never before run afoul of the law, to undergo a psychological evaluation to determine if he's fit to stand trial.

His wife said she wants his story known because she doesn't want anyone else to experience the same heartbreak — or worse, lose their spouse.

"My husband is not a violent man. He was just frustrated because he couldn't get help," she said.

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