A state agency that represents the mentally disabled and mentally ill is investigating the case of a man with autism who died after being handcuffed by Lexington police last month.
Officials with Kentucky Protection and Advocacy say the organization is looking into the death of Roland Campbell, 21, and another recent case in which a mentally disabled man lost consciousness after police responded to a call about a disorder.
Marsha Hockensmith, director of Kentucky Protection and Advocacy, said the agency is trying to determine whether the cases are part of a "systematic problem" in how police handle calls involving the mentally disabled.
"We're not asserting that it is, but we want to make sure," she said.
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Police have said officers acted appropriately.
Campbell, who was severely autistic and could not speak, died April 18 after police responded to a call about "a mentally challenged subject that was out of control" at a Waco Road group home owned by Adult Daycare of Lexington Inc.
Officers initially handcuffed Campbell without incident, intending to take him into emergency detention. Police have said physical evidence at the scene and witnesses' statements indicated that Campbell was "a danger to himself and others."
Police say Campbell became violent and escaped his restraints, and when officers were cuffing him a second time, he lost consciousness. The officers performed CPR until emergency medical personnel arrived. Campbell was later pronounced dead at St. Joseph Hospital.
Campbell's family questioned whether police injured Campbell while restraining him, but preliminary tests ruled out physical trauma and illness as causes of death, according to Fayette County coroner Gary Ginn.
The state medical examiner's office has not released its final autopsy report.
While waiting for that document, Protection and Advocacy is in the early stages of conducting interviews and requesting documents.
"We're just getting started," Hockensmith said.
The day before Campbell's death, Lexington police responded to another disorder involving a mentally handicapped person, who also lost consciousness while officers were on the scene.
Around 6 p.m. April 17, Barbara Renfro called police and emergency medical personnel about her son, Jon Jones, 30, who she said was reacting to prescription medication. She said Jones suffers from mental retardation and other disabilities.
Jones was breaking boards off a fence behind the house when police arrived, Renfro said. Jones is normally well-behaved, she said, but the medicine, which was prescribed for dental work, interacted with his normal mood medications and caused him to become restless and angry.
Sherelle Roberts, spokeswoman for Lexington police, verified that Jones lost consciousness while police were present, but said it did not appear officers were restraining him at the time. She said EMTs, who had been on the scene before police arrived, noticed Jones was unconscious after he was placed on a backboard to be loaded into an ambulance.
Jones was taken to University of Kentucky Hospital. Roberts said he regained consciousness in the ambulance.
Jones faces criminal charges in the incident. According to court documents, Jones attacked a responding officer with a fence board and spit into the mouth of another. He was charged with assaulting a police or probation officer, menacing and criminal mischief.
Recruits spend eight hours of training learning how to deal with mentally handicapped people, Roberts said, and officers undergo periodic in-service training.
Renfro said that the day before the incident, she had called police when her son was acting violently. She said the officers who responded that night calmed Jones by playing games with him, showing him their equipment and talking to him.
In the Campbell case, Protection and Advocacy and the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services are also investigating Adult Daycare, which provided housing and care for Campbell under the Support for Community Living Medicaid waiver.
Roman Campbell, Roland Campbell's brother, has said his brother was normally sweet and calm, but he might have acted violently because he had been given the wrong medication or the wrong dosage.
Pecola Campbell, Roland Campbell's mother, said officials at Adult Daycare told her Campbell had been put on a new medication about a week before his death.
Campbell lived in the house with other mentally handicapped men and a caretaker, she said.
Linda Hill, owner of Adult Daycare, issued a news release that said Campbell's death "was not the result of any action or inaction by Adult Daycare of Lexington or any of its staff."
Neither Protection and Advocacy nor CHFS has received complaints about Adult Daycare.
Melanie Tyner-Wilson, mother of a 17-year-old boy with autism and a member of the Autism Society of the Bluegrass, said news stories about Campbell's death have dominated conversations.
"The biggest response was from parents with young children ... reading that story and going 'that could have been my child,'" she said.
Tyner-Wilson said her only experiences with Lexington police have been positive. On several occasions, she said, her son, Jay Tyner-Wilson, has wandered off, ending up in downtown Lexington at places like the Hyatt Regency or the library. Police officers have always made sure he got home safely, she said.
But she said it's easy to envision how miscommunication could create a tense situation; like Campbell, Jay Tyner-Wilson cannot speak.
She said Jay Tyner-Wilson often communicates discomfort through self-abuse, hitting himself in the chest, and he sometimes sobs uncontrollably or becomes agitated with no warning.
"If he was in an emergency situation, like a car crash, and all of a sudden there were emergency response people there ... there's a whole variety of ways he could respond, but if the folks going to that situation haven't had the proper training, it's very easy to misinterpret his actions," she said.
Campbell's family said he had become enraged at the home on Waco Road, and that he had been turning over tables and causing property damage before officers were able to restrain him.
Tyner-Wilson said Campbell's death embodied her friends' worst fears: that their child would be in a potentially life-threatening situation, unable to communicate.
Campbell "was not able to tell people what was wrong," she said.